The Value of Mundane Sadness

I’ve been pretty sad lately. A smile feels forced, I’m tired, and my chest feels heavy and aches. I don’t want to look people in the eyes because I know they’ll see it. Some of my sadness can be explained by recent experiences with loss, disappointment and the passage of time. Most of it, I think, is just explained by something that’s true about me: my heart is wired to go through these valleys.

There’s a voice that yells reminders to me in that valley to be joyful, that people are counting on me and that I need to put on a happy face. This voice gets me to the next work meeting and my kids’ baseball game…and it also makes me disappointed in myself for feeling low.

When I recently saw the Pixar movie “Inside Out” depict our emotions as characters in our head, I found myself in tears. As The New York Times said, “not of grief, but of gratitude and recognition.”


The character Joy perpetually attempts to marginalize Sadness, only to realize later that she can’t do her work without Sadness. In the turning point of the movie, Joy remembers that her best moments were preceded by the very presence of Sadness. For example, she reflects on the times when friends and parents were most loving and present and realizes, “They came to help because of Sadness.”

And the movie helped me to remember the value of sadness in my professional and personal life. Sadness has encouraged me to:

  • Slow down. While my initial reaction to slowing down is frustration, I realize I’m clearer in my thinking and gentler in my approach.
  • Reflect. I think more deeply when I’m down. I play music that touches a nerve and reminds me of who I am.
  • Connect. I have more patience to listen, to write, to read and to be present with people without needing to fill the silence.
  • Be humble. Sadness, particularly the mundane and inexplicable kind, reminds me that I’m broken and in need of constant repair.

The New York Times goes on to say:

Sadness, it turns out, is not Joy’s rival but her partner. Our ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and empathy in ourselves. There is no growth without loss, and no art without longing.

What impact could it have if we were to honor and affirm the regular sadness that we all experience?



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  • Stacey Steen
    July 29, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Your confession reminds me of one by Richard Carlson, he once said, “One of the happiest people I know also experiences some very down times.” Sadness and joy are proof we are human. We must fully experience a full range of emotion to be authentic. I also have sad times and at those times I have to remind myself that it isn’t a good time to psychoanalyze myself and my life. We show strength when we are humble and admit how we really feel. Thank you for revealing strength and real leadership!!

    • Matt Norman
      July 31, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      Stacey, thank you for reminding me that a full range of emotions shows that we’re human and authentic.

  • Brenna
    July 30, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Emotions drive our experiences in life. The value in the lessons is whether or not we are actively giving attention to what they are and the positive things we can learn from them. Is the glass half full or half empty? There is the question.

    • Matt Norman
      July 31, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      Brenna, your comment prompts me to reflect on the intersection of emotions and attitude. Emotion is what we feel and attitude is how we respond. Thank you.

  • Greg
    July 31, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trails of many kinds, for the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature, complete, and not lacking anything. James 1:2-3

    • Matt Norman
      August 4, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Thank you, Greg. That scripture fits perfectly and is so helpful to remember.