A state of dejection of soul caused by great affliction; a languor of spirit and a discouragement engendered by the knowledge that one is afflicted by some evil. Sadness has many degrees and expresses itself in many ways. As an affective movement of the sensitive appetite, it is the emotional reaction to an evil recognized as present and no longer avoidable. This apprehension of evil (or the loss of a good, which is felt as an evil) may arise from the senses, the imagination or memory, or the intellect. Although it is not itself a privation, it results from awareness of a privation—a positive act that arises from contact with evil. Sadness then has its source in love and desire of a good that is lost or is absent, or in the presence of an evil that is hated and for which one has aversion.
In addition to the sadness experienced over one's own evil, there is also pity, which is sadness over another's evil; envy, which is sorrow over another's good; anxiety, which one experiences when escape from sadness seems impossible; and torpor, which is the mental anguish that makes movement virtually impossible.
Psychology. As an emotion, sadness is psychosomatic. Sadness is even evident in one's physiognomy— dull eyes, drooped lips, grave expression of duress. The internal bodily changes accompanying sadness are the slowing down of respiration and heartbeat and the consequent loss of bodily strength. In sadness, the only organ significantly activated is the gall bladder; the increased flow of bile may back up into the stomach, thus causing loss of appetite or nausea. The passive motor functions are stopped or suppressed; the active motor functions react defensively—crying, contortions, or convulsions. Of all the passions, sadness, especially when prolonged, is the most harmful to the body. Physical activity performed in a state of sadness is seldom performed well.
Psychologically, the effects of sadness are listlessness and lack of vital energy. Just as joy dilates the heart, sadness constricts it. As sadness becomes more intense or extreme, there is increasing absorption in one's pain or suffering, leading to depression and at times to stupor.
Some causes of sadness are inherent in human nature; others are peculiar to the individual. All men are subject to sickness and physical suffering, fatigue and exhaustion, and infirmities that are the sad precursor of death. The moral suffering, deceptions, fears, remorse, apprehension about the future, discouragement about the present, etc.—the sources of suffering for each individual—differ greatly. Often one can be sad without being able to find a precise cause. Loss or lack of possessions, friends, honor, reputation, respect, etc., as well as unfulfilled or conflicting desires, are legitimate causes of sadness for human persons. The true psychological cause of all sadness is the feeling of one's inability or powerlessness to cope with present evil or the loss or absence of a good.
The remedies for sadness are pleasurable experiences, crying (a normal outlet), sympathy of friends, the contemplation of truth (in proportion to one's appreciation of the search for truth), sleep, bathing, and exercise. Since one of the greatest causes of sadness is unfulfilled desire, or conflict of desires, one of the simplest remedies is the limitation of one's desires.
One's tendency to sadness is closely related to temperament. The sanguine person tends to pass with extreme facility from joy to sadness or vice versa, neither being very intense or lasting. Sadness in the sanguine tends to express itself in speech. Choleric and melancholic persons experience no emotion by halves—every impression penetrates and endures. Sadness in persons of these temperaments is more likely to be manifested by silence.
Age and sex also seem to play a related role in the experience of sadness. In children, sadness (unlike anger) is not present, for they are not yet aware of the labor, the dangers, and the miseries of human existence. Because of their keener sensitivity, women seem to experience sadness more easily than men; and they more readily suffer or are sad because of conflict, loss, frustration, or failure in the sphere of human love.
Morality. In its nature as an emotion, sadness is morally neutral; but in the totality of a human experience, it is good when moderated, and lacking in goodness when it completely exceeds reasonable limits either in its object, or duration, or intensity. Sadness is not necessarily in disaccord with reason; it need not be avoided as shameful or useless, but must be integrated into harmonious living. No human life passes without suffering— physical and moral—and therefore sadness must be accepted under the control of reason.
See Also: passion.
Bibliography: m. l. falorni, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 4:1318–19. thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 35–39. j. maisonneuve, Les Sentiments (3d ed. Paris 1954). g. dumas, Nouveau traité de psychologie (Paris 1930) v. 2.
[m. w. hollenbach]