Can we have happiness without sadness?

darkness-lightI believe that the world exists in binaries. Happy and sad, black and white, light and dark. I see these binaries on a continuum upon which individuals shift from one end of the spectrum to another continuously throughout the course of the lifespan. So, with that being said, I believe that you cannot appreciate the value of a thing without knowing and/or experiencing the existence of it’s binary opposition.

I recently came across a quote which states: ” sometimes it takes sadness to appreciate happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence”.

Similarly, (and perhaps less elegantly phrased) if you type the word “hope” into a google image search, you are bound to eventually come across quotes stating things such as “stars can’t shine without darkness” or “when the sun goes down, the stars come out”. The common theme that I see recurring here is that in times of despair, people find hope in the existence of happiness. Conversely, in times of happiness people are able to better appreciate the value of the good because they have known the bad.

The best point of comparison that I can think of to further demonstrate my point would be money. Typically, people who have known poverty in the past and those who currently live in poverty will appreciate the value of a dollar much more than individuals who have never worried about money problems. Think of the stereotypical spoiled rich kid. If you give the rich kid $100 to spend as they choose, they would most likely spend it frivolously on non-essential products or services. If you gave that same $100 to someone living in poverty, this individual would more likely spend the money on essentials such as food or warm clothing because they are less likely to take the money for granted.

In other words, the negative end of the binary of life teaches us not to take for granted the positive end of the binary of life. 

In this respect, I suppose it would be possible for someone to feel happiness without ever having felt sadness (although i’m not sure how anyone would get through life without ever being sad…) but would they appreciate happiness as much as someone who has faced many hardships and incredible sadness? Not likely. While we may not feel the value of sadness in the moment that we are experiencing it, I believe that it does help us appreciate the happy moments of life much more than we would if we had never gone through the challenging parts of life.

When I look back on my own life and the challenges that I have faced it does not “please” me to know that I was faced with things that I would not wish on my worst enemy, but given the chance I don’t think I would change anything about the past. I see the lowest points of my life as moments which required me to discover the strength that I possess which in turn helped me become the person that I am today. I value my ability to empathize with others who have gone through similar experiences and I believe that my experiences will help me succeed in my future career as a therapist. I am certainly not “thankful” for the worst moments of my life, but I can appreciate them for the learning experiences that they were and I am thankful that I am better able to appreciate the good after experiencing the bad.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think people can know happiness without knowing sadness? Let me know in the comments!