What Do We Really Feel When We're Sad?

In his fantastic book The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig creates a dictionary full of words to describe emotions that we all feel but do not have the language to express. 

It's one of the most imaginative and evocative books I have read. Koenig doesn't just dream up new words--he paints them if that makes sense.  What he does is beautiful, full of incredible imagery, and pure poetry. 

At the outset, Koenig explains what he means by the words "obscure sorrows" in his book's title, which I found both fascinating and inspiring. 

Koenig writes: 

The word sadness originally meant "fullness," from the same Latin root, satis, that also gave us sated and satisfaction.  Not so long ago, to be sad meant that you were filled to the brim with some intensity of experience... It was a state of awareness--setting the focus to infinity and taking it all in, joy and grief all at once. 

I found this reframing of what it means to be sad both refreshing and life-giving.  I also longed for a wider acceptance of the older definition of the word and wished I'd discovered it sooner. 

So many of us don't have the right words to describe how we feel at times when our heart is heavy and our thoughts are deep and full of yearning desire for the indescribable.  

So in light of our inability to fully express our emotions in those moments, we might say to someone, "I feel sad." But deep inside, we know that "sadness" doesn't honestly describe our feelings. 

Some of you may understand what I am about to say:  

Some days, I want to feel what I've always thought of as sadness, and I  don't want to be dissuaded from that feeling.  

I might even wish it was cold, grey, and rainy outside when it isn't because then I would have no choice but to stay home in my pajamas, journal about my feelings, read a book or two and then watch something mind-numbing on television. 

Or I find myself drawn to a playlist on my iTunes account entitled "Sad Times" or another called "Isolation." The songs on these playlists often reflect what I'm feeling better than anything else. 

I've often thought that Sir Elton John was spot on when he sang, "Sad songs, they say so much."  They do. They say more than we give them credit, in my opinion. 

There's nothing like a sad song when you're feeling blue to help you connect more fully with your emotions and understand why you're feeling them. 

And sometimes, there's nothing quite like sadness to help us connect the dots regarding matters of love, life, and faith. 

John Koenig concludes his comments on sadness and why we should let ourselves feel it by saying this: 

And if you are lucky enough to feel sad, well, savor it while it lasts--if only because it means that you care about something in this world enough to let it get under your skin. 

I can't tell you how much I love this.  It gives us the words to describe the fullness that comes with sadness and a new way to understand our feelings when we care so much that it hurts. 

In my understanding of this, I believe these are all gifts from God--both the words and the feelings themselves.  And we have none other than the example of Jesus to see that God intimately understands us when we are filled with sadness (fullness).

According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus let himself feel these kinds of feelings more than a few times.  

He experienced the fullness that comes with sadness because his love for the world and everyone in it was so great.  So great that he was willing to risk everything for it. 

There's poetry and beauty in that, isn't there? I think so. 

May this newfound knowledge give you comfort and joy. Let yourself experience the fullness of life and be more intimately connected to the Divine. 

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 


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