What Can We Learn From Both Joy and Sorrow? Part 1. By Dr Linda Berman.

imageViktor Vasnetsov. Sirin and Alkonost Birds of Joy and Sorrow. 1896. Oil on canvas. Wikimedia Commons.

“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

“But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

Kahlil Gibran

  • Learning Through Both Joy And Sorrow.

Inspired by the words of the poet Kahlil Gibran, I have written these two posts (for today and next Tuesday) in order to highlight the fact that joy and sorrow will inevitably occur in our lives and that they both can be learning experiences.

Both affect every one of us because they are a part of the human condition, something that everyone in the world inevitably experiences.

“Regardless of your age, you will always have adventures, unexpected joys and unexpected sorrows.”

Betty Friedan

imageClaude Monet. Rain (La Pluie.)1886. Wikimedia Commons.

“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  • What If There Were No Sorrow?

imageSunset at Sea. Thomas Moran. Wikimedia Commons.

“Joy and sorrow in this world pass into each other, mingling their forms and their murmurs in the twilight of life as mysterious as an overshadowed ocean, while the dazzling brightness of supreme hopes lies far off, fascinating and still, on the distant edge of the horizon.”

Joseph Conrad

The thought of never experiencing sorrow or loss may sound very appealing at first. However, much as we may not want to experience the bad times, these do serve as learning experiences in so many ways.

“When we learn to respond to disappointments with acceptance, we give ourselves the space to realize that all our experiences—good and bad alike—are opportunities to learn and grow. This itself is an act of love.”

Sharon Salzberg

During sorrowful times, this may be hard to remember, but it is important to hold onto a kind of faith in the process of life.

Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973
Weeping Woman. 1937 Pablo Picasso.  Wikimedia Commons.

“Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”

James A. Baldwin

Without experiencing bad times, without knowing sorrow, how would we learn to have courage, strength and hope?

“Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.”
Anaïs Nin

How else would we develop patience, gain understanding into what is safe and what is dangerous, sense when pitfalls may arise, become whole, wise, insightful people?

How else would we learn perseverance and resilience?

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

Lance Armstrong

Sorrow can also bring us closer to others. Sharing sorrows means we are wanting some comfort, some empathy.

Often, when we see another’s vulnerability, we warm to them. They are showing us their trust and their need for support.

Out of shared bad times can come strengthened relationships, healing, deepened connections and new understanding.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In addition, when we feel collective sadness at the state of our world, we can grieve together, help each other and fight for justice for many causes.

  • Remembering The Good Things When There is Sorrow.


Nightingale. Carlos Delgado. Wikimedia Commons.

“Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

“Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.”
Leo Tolstoy

Life can be very hard; however, in this world there are no absolutes and there are always some comforting, soothing thoughts and aspects of our lives that bring relief, even for a few moments.

imageBouquet of flowers by Edouard Manet (1882)Wikimedia Commons.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Agatha Christie

If we did not know distress and failure, how would we learn to appreciate what we have and feel a sense of achievement when we experience the joys of success?

“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”

Barack Obama

Furthermore, if there were no difficult times, there would be less creativity. Many musicians, writers and poets have written from a place of sorrow. An excess of comfort might lead to a complacent attitude and many of the great minds of our time wrote brilliantly creative works after a childhood of deprivation or loss.

Hughes, Arthur, 1832-1915; A Music PartyArthur Hughes. A Music Party. 1864. Wikimedia Commons.

“In times of joy and sorrow, love or hate, peace and unrest, music has always been an important outlet for expressing our emotions individually and as a nation”

David Bryan

“When I wished to sing of love, it turned to sorrow. And when I wished to sing of sorrow, it was transformed for me into love.”

Franz Schubert

imageBANG, by Ai Weiwei, Venice Biennale, 2013. Wikimedia Commons.

“If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for?”

Ai Weiwei

Some wonderful artworks have been created that express difficulties and sorrow. Such creativity is inspired by sadness and loss.

Al Weiwei’s powerful art installation refers to the now almost lost tradition in China of having hand crafted, wooden stools and chairs in their home. However, since the cultural revolution, these have been replaced by plastic and aluminium.

This work combines beauty and sadness. It brings us a kind of joy, in that we can celebrate the artist’s boldness and courage to speak out for others in difficult circumstances, showing support for life and justice.

His art laments this loss; it represents the individual versus the power of the fast developing, excessive state.

imageLa Mélancolie. Louis Jean Francois Lagrenée. Wikimedia Commons.

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley(Extract from The Skylark)

50000131033_68642c66c0_oClive Head – Cherry Train [2017] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Go forth into the busy world and love it. Interest yourself in its life, mingle kindly with its joys and sorrows.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

If there were only joy, and no sorrow,  where would we be? The world would suffer from a lack of contrast, the glare would be too strong, we would feel worn-out, unappreciative of all the light, lacking contrast and shades of grey.

We need both the light and the darkness.

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity, but to mature and transfigure us.”

Hermann Hesse

©Linda Berman.

Read Part 2 of this post entitled ‘Joy And Sorrow: How Can We Achieve A Healthy Balance?’ next Tuesday on waysofthinking.co.uk


  1. Fifty Cent, a well-known rapper, said in his rhyme, ‘Many Men’ “ Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain
    Joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain
    Death gotta be easy ‘cause life is hard
    It’ll leave you physically, mentally, and emotionally scarred.”
    One of the reasons I’m drawn to rap is the storytelling, the insight into the worlds of the artists.

    Liked by 1 person

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