Alain de Botton recently posted  at “The School of Life” some provocative and wise thoughts on the value of melancholy.

In his post called “In Praise of Melancholy” de Botton suggests if we look carefully we may find in melancholy, gifts for living deeper richer lives. Followed by a comment from me, below are a few quotes from his post which should be read in its entirety here

we should pay more attention to melancholy and even seek it out from time to time.

Melancholy is a species of sadness that arises when we are open to the fact that life is inherently difficult and that suffering and disappointment are core parts of universal experience. It’s not a disorder that needs to be cured.

Modern society tends to emphasise buoyancy and cheerfulness. But we have to admit that reality is for the most part about grief and loss. The good life is not one immune to sadness, but one in which suffering contributes to our development….

De Botton identifies three things that may cause melancholy:

the transience of life

the darkness of the human condition

the inevitable contradictions of our divided nature

He also suggests, if we pay attention to our melancholy, we may find gifts hidden in our sadness

Melancholy is a key mental state and a valuable one, because it links pain with beauty and wisdom. Our suffering isn’t merely chaotic – a mark of failure, an error – it can be linked to admirable things. Often, sadness simply makes a lot of sense.

De Botton lists four potential gifts melancholy has to offer:





There is one point where de Botton and I appear to part company. Faced with the inevitability of death, de Botton writes,

Ultimately, nothing we do matters. Our lives – our loves and cares, our griefs, our triumphs – will be washed away.

On the contrary, I would argue that, what we do matters supremely. I do not mean “what we do” in the sense of the daily details on the surface of our lives. I do not think it matters much whether we spend our lives working as a plumber or a brain surgeon. I do not think it is important if we live in the city, the country, or the suburbs, whether we marry or stay single, whether we follow a vegetarian diet or eat meat at every meal. .

But I do think it matters immensely whether we choose to be kind and compassionate towards other people. I do believe it is tremendously important that we live as lightly and respectfully as possible on this earth. I believe that it matters whether we choose violence, arrogance, and resentment, or gentleness, openness, and forgiveness.

Life is designed to work in a certain way. It works better when we choose to live in accordance with the design that is built into all creation.

I agree totally with Mr. de Botton that melancholy is one of the pathways that has the power to open our hearts to a more life-giving way of being. Melancholy is one of the tools that can help us experience the value and power of compassion, kindness, gentleness, and surrender.

We live in a culture that finds it difficult to value the subtle gifts of melancholy, but they are there to be found by those who do not run in fear from a more sombre approach to life.