Sadness is a feeling that comes to us from time to time, and for different reasons. We might feel sad after the loss of something we love, but what’s the difference between sadness and depression? Are they both bad experiences we should avoid?

In this article, Dr. Allan M. Leventhal talks about the difference between the two and the need for pointing it out.

  • You can still get help from a therapist when you’re sad, but sadness is not an illness. It’s just an aspect of ordinary life. It’s a normal human emotion.
  • If we confuse sadness with depression, treating depression will be more difficult.

The things we love in life are called positive reinforcers. We experience sadness when we lose one of these positive reinforcers, like the loss of a relationship, a job, self-esteem, or a person we love.

Loss is something everyone experiences sooner or later. But why do some people become depressed, and others don’t?

If this loss goes unnoticed- if we don’t find other positive reinforcers to replace that loss, we may become depressed.

Depression is caused by negative core beliefs- when we adopt many negative views of ourselves, the world, and the future. All these negative thoughts come from that loss we experienced.

Sadness may last for days or weeks, depending on how severe it is. But it will end in a shorter time than depression.

Depression disrupts our functions, and unlike sadness, it’s recurring.

Sadness is a useful emotion, just like fear. Fear helps us survive in dangerous situations, and sadness tells us there’s a lack of positive reinforcers in our life.

When we’re sad, we avoid things that make us experience that sadness. For example, if we failed in a relationship, we may stay away from new ones.

This avoidance denies us the opportunity to develop a new, better, and happier relationship. So we don’t find a replacement for our lost positive reinforcer.

This lack of positive reinforcers leads to developing negative ideas.

If we find new sources of positive reinforcement, sadness is temporary. If not, it turns into depression.

In other words, avoiding sadness takes away our opportunity to be happy.

Avoiding sadness can make it longer, so long that it might turn into depression. If we recognize that we’re sad, we can deal with that feeling by finding something else, something positive that brings us back to our happy self!

Setting aside more time for ourselves, and not avoiding new opportunities, can help us find that positive reinforcer that we’re looking for.

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