I have been thinking about Gwen Bell’s piece about entrepreneurship and melancholy. It is simply beautiful writing, declarative and brave, poetic without being overwrought. And I love Gwen’s candor about her own childhood, about the melancholy that she “cannot outrun.” Most of what this post has me thinking about, though, is what I alluded to in my comment:
Thank you for writing so beautifully of the way that having some deep-rooted sadness in your soul doesn’t have to exclude the possibility of great happiness.
Yes. I am so familiar with the sadness of the soul, what Gwen describes as an “undercurrent of sadness.” Yet I find her post incredibly hopeful. It gives me that fullness in my chest that is both the uplifting of inspiration and the grounding of deep truth. Yes. I thought of a Lorrie Moore passage from Who Will Run the Frog Hospital: “Still, something deeply sad had been born buried in me, stirring occasionally inside like a creature moving in sleep.”
I have such a creature inside of me, and the image of it stirring in sleep is wonderfully apt. So I can absolutely understand the general sadness that Gwen talks about, the dogged darkness that cannot be shaken off because it’s a part of every cell of your body. But I am so charmed and moved to hear her assertion – which rings so many familiar bells for me – that “happiness can be cultivated in an environment of the acceptance of sadness.” I have known this instinctively for a long time but have never been able to put it into such lucid words.
I would go further, though. I believe that having an orientation towards melancholy might actually allow a person to experience even more joy. I don’t know if this is about capacity or about contrast. If the former, it is as Kahlil Gibran (I know, he is super trite, hackneyed, and cliched, but isn’t there some ringing truth in this?) says: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
This might be it. If one is capable of great sadness, does it not make sense that one would also be able to experience tremendous joy? This makes sense to me. Doesn’t a predisposition to deep feeling apply both to light and to dark?
But it could also be that by knowing darkness, we are better able to appreciate lightness. It could be as simple as that. Maybe in the braiding of happy and sad, the happy becomes more vivid. Maybe we inhabit the joy, when it comes, more fully, knowing that our melancholy will inevitably return.
I’m not sure I know which of these it is, or even that it matters. What I know is that I am newly convinced, thanks to Gwen’s thoughtful piece, that a propensity towards melancholy not only need not obscure the ability to feel joy, but might actually enable it. This is a visceral and muscular truth, one that defines my life experience. Thank you, Gwen, for helping guide me to it.