The Difference Between Sadness and Discontent (and why it matters in the grand scheme of things)

A few months back, I posted some life lessons I had been privileged to learn, one of which is "Learn the difference between sadness and discontent, because it'll help you a lot in how you strive to "fix" things."

Many of you commented that this statement was something you'd like to think about, so I thought I'd explain a little further what I meant when I said it.

Sadness and discontent are different beasts.  You can experience them at the same time, or you can have just one or the other.  They are unlike each other enough that if you can pinpoint which one you're experiencing, you'll be able to have a better idea of what you need to do to move forward.


Sadness is an emotion you feel as the result of circumstance.  Your favorite dog might have died, or you lost your job, or they were all out of cream filled donuts at Tim Horton's (<--devastating).  Sadness should be a somewhat "fleeting" emotion...that is, it's meant to only be with us for a short amount of time, just like any other emotion.  It is something we feel, as opposed to something we are.

I believe that sadness should be allowed to run its natural course.*  It's okay to feel sad, it's not a "bad" emotion, and it doesn't necessarily need "fixed".  Sadness can allow us to grieve a loss, it can help us to stay raw, emotional and in touch, and if nothing else, it can help us to appreciate the times when we are not sad, more.


Discontent is a state of being, not an emotion.  Discontent can arise from many factors, and it's not necessarily a negative thing.  For example, if you're discontent at your job, perhaps it's because you're not doing the kind of work you'd like to be doing.  It can be an impetus to get your shit together and go after what you really want.

Fixing discontent (i.e. removing it from your life) requires action.  First, introspection will allow you to figure out why you are feeling discontent.  Are you discontent because of your immediate circumstance (your job, your relationship), or are you discontent because you have not learned to appreciate your immediate circumstance?  Second, after you determine why you are discontent, you can then make a choice to either change your immediate circumstance, or learn to be content with your immediate circumstance.

The reason why it matters that you know the difference betwen sadness and discontent is so that you can determine if you need to be passive or active about your current circumstance.  For instance, last year when my body and brain went completely wacko, I was able to determine that what I was experiencing was actually a deep, unprovoked, and prolonged sadness and NOT discontentedness with my life.  That fact was much more concerning to me because a) I knew there was nothing I could do to "fix" the way I was feeling (i.e. change my circumstance) and b) holy hell, I should probably see a doctor. 

I guess the reason why I loved having this little lightbulb moment in my life was because I learned the times I could sit back and let life take its course, and the times I needed to take direct action.  And for a person who is constantly trying to fix, oh, everything, it's kind of nice to just let myself be now and again. 

What about you?  Have you noticed the difference between sadness and discontent?  Or do you think they are not mutually exclusive?

*Not that I need to say this again, but remember, I'm not a doctor or any sort of medical professional.  If you have prolonged sadness, feelings of hopelessness and despair, or any other symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, please, please see your doctor.