Today’s self-help books are written about how to become happier. In the Renaissance, they were about becoming sadder. Tiffany Watt Smith discussed this in her Ted Talk as well as in her delightful book, The Book of Human Emotions.
During the Renaissance, the idea was that if you practice the emotion of sadness, it won’t be as difficult when tragedy inevitably befalls you.
Smith goes into more detail about why people thought sadness to be superior and the implications of that, but I’m interested in the larger theme which her research is pointing to:
How do we as a cultural feel about emotions? Why? And is it serving us?
Smith’s work points to the idea that how we feel about emotions changes. One day we may celebrate happiness, and perhaps the next generation worships seriousness. But is one actually superior to the other? Does pushing aside what we are really feeling, and trying to practice another emotion actually lead us to live a truer life?