Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

The Sadness Painting, by Chiti Srisukho, Thailand

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
Ecclesiastes 7:3

The word sorrow is variously translated in other versions as frustration, anger and grief, but each version agrees that this emotion is better than mirth. It sounds strange to our modern minds to seek sadness rather than happiness. We have become indoctrinated with the idea that happiness must be sought at all times; to be unhappy is considered almost an illness. In the corporate world companies actually hire consultants to make their staff happy. It's an appalling practice, invasive and humiliating yet it persists.1 There is this foolish idea that if people are smiling they are happy—and if they are happy we don't have to worry about discontent and possible worker uprisings! But people walking around with grins on their faces does not equate to happiness, only to compliance and a denial of real, nuanced emotion.

"Turn that smile upside down", the happiness consultants and well-meaning friends tell us, not realising (or maybe even being afraid) that deep thought, contemplation, curiosity and puzzlement are states of happiness for many of us, and the outward appearance of such emotion is often a frown, or a look of melancholy. We grow more through our confusion, bafflement, failure and grief than we do from any momentary feeling of joy—as much as the latter is always welcome. Happiness is a temporary state, an accidental side-effect of an honourable life and an enquiring mind. It is not a mask to don all day long. Our hearts are made better through experiencing all of our emotions, fully and without shame. Our hearts sicken when we deny those feelings and present a happy countenance at all times. Incongruity will always be seen for what it is. Truth will out.

1 I wrote about corporate happiness a few years ago.