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Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

What really causes addiction — to everything from cocaine to smart-phones? And how can we overcome it? Johann Hari has seen our current methods fail firsthand, as he has watched loved ones struggle to manage their addictions. He started to wonder why we treat addicts the way we do — and if there might be a better way. As he shares in this deeply personal talk, his questions took him around the world, and unearthed some surprising and hopeful ways of thinking about an age-old problem.

One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to. And I was just a little kid, so I didn’t really understand why, but as I got older, I realized we had drug addiction in my family, including later cocaine addiction.

I’d been thinking about it a lot lately, partly because it’s now exactly 100 years since drugs were first banned in the United States and Britain, and we then imposed that on the rest of the world. It’s a century since we made this really fateful decision to take addicts and punish them and make them suffer, because we believed that would deter them; it would give them an incentive to stop.

And a few years ago, I was looking at some of the addicts in my life who I love, and trying to figure out if there was some way to help them. And I realized there were loads of incredibly basic questions I just didn’t know the answer to, like, what really causes addiction? Why do we carry on with this approach that doesn’t seem to be working, and is there a better way out there that we could try instead?

So I read loads of stuff about it, and I couldn’t really find the answers I was looking for, so I thought, okay, I’ll go and sit with different people around the world who lived this and studied this and talk to them and see if I could learn from them. And I didn’t realize I would end up going over 30,000 miles at the start, but I ended up going and meeting loads of different people, from a transgender crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to a scientist who spends a lot of time feeding hallucinogens to mongooses to see if they like them — it turns out they do, but only in very specific circumstances — to the only country that’s ever decriminalized all drugs, from cannabis to crack, Portugal. And the thing I realized that really blew my mind is, almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong, and if we start to absorb the new evidence about addiction, I think we’re going to have to change a lot more than our drug policies.

But let’s start with what we think we know, what I thought I knew. Let’s think about this middle row here. Imagine all of you, for 20 days now, went off and used heroin three times a day. Some of you look a little more enthusiastic than others at this prospect. (Laughter) Don’t worry, it’s just a thought experiment. Imagine you did that, right? What would happen? Now, we have a story about what would happen that we’ve been told for a century. We think, because there are chemical hooks in heroin, as you took it for a while, your body would become dependent on those hooks, you’d start to physically need them, and at the end of those 20 days, you’d all be heroin addicts. Right? That’s what I thought.

First thing that alerted me to the fact that something’s not right with this story is when it was explained to me. If I step out of this TED Talk today and I get hit by a car and I break my hip, I’ll be taken to hospital and I’ll be given loads of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s actually much better heroin than you’re going to buy on the streets, because the stuff you buy from a drug dealer is contaminated. Actually, very little of it is heroin, whereas the stuff you get from the doctor is medically pure. And you’ll be given it for quite a long period of time. There are loads of people in this room, you may not realize it, you’ve taken quite a lot of heroin. And anyone who is watching this anywhere in the world, this is happening. And if what we believe about addiction is right — those people are exposed to all those chemical hooks — What should happen? They should become addicts. This has been studied really carefully. It doesn’t happen; you will have noticed if your grandmother had a hip replacement, she didn’t come out as a junkie. (Laughter)

And when I learned this, it seemed so weird to me, so contrary to everything I’d been told, everything I thought I knew, I just thought it couldn’t be right, until I met a man called Bruce Alexander. He’s a professor of psychology in Vancouver who carried out an incredible experiment I think really helps us to understand this issue. Professor Alexander explained to me, the idea of addiction we’ve all got in our heads, that story, comes partly from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They’re really simple. You can do them tonight at home if you feel a little sadistic. You get a rat and you put it in a cage, and you give it two water bottles: One is just water, and the other is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drug water and almost always kill itself quite quickly. So there you go, right? That’s how we think it works. In the ’70s, Professor Alexander comes along and he looks at this experiment and he noticed something. He said ah, we’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do except use these drugs. Let’s try something different. So Professor Alexander built a cage that he called “Rat Park,” which is basically heaven for rats. They’ve got loads of cheese, they’ve got loads of colored balls, they’ve got loads of tunnels. Crucially, they’ve got loads of friends. They can have loads of sex. And they’ve got both the water bottles, the normal water and the drugged water. But here’s the fascinating thing: In Rat Park, they don’t like the drug water. They almost never use it. None of them ever use it compulsively. None of them ever overdose. You go from almost 100 percent overdose when they’re isolated to zero percent overdose when they have happy and connected lives.

Now, when he first saw this, Professor Alexander thought, maybe this is just a thing about rats, they’re quite different to us. Maybe not as different as we’d like, but, you know — But fortunately, there was a human experiment into the exact same principle happening at the exact same time. It was called the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, 20 percent of all American troops were using loads of heroin, and if you look at the news reports from the time, they were really worried, because they thought, my God, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war ends; it made total sense. Now, those soldiers who were using loads of heroin were followed home. The Archives of General Psychiatry did a really detailed study, and what happened to them? It turns out they didn’t go to rehab. They didn’t go into withdrawal. Ninety-five percent of them just stopped. Now, if you believe the story about chemical hooks, that makes absolutely no sense, but Professor Alexander began to think there might be a different story about addiction. He said, what if addiction isn’t about your chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your cage? What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?

Looking at this, there was another professor called Peter Cohen in the Netherlands who said, maybe we shouldn’t even call it addiction. Maybe we should call it bonding. Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond, and when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other, but if you can’t do that, because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. Now, that might be gambling, that might be pornography, that might be cocaine, that might be cannabis, but you will bond and connect with something because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.

And at first, I found this quite a difficult thing to get my head around, but one way that helped me to think about it is, I can see, I’ve got over by my seat a bottle of water, right? I’m looking at lots of you, and lots of you have bottles of water with you. Forget the drugs. Forget the drug war. Totally legally, all of those bottles of water could be bottles of vodka, right? We could all be getting drunk — I might after this — (Laughter) — but we’re not. Now, because you’ve been able to afford the approximately gazillion pounds that it costs to get into a TED Talk, I’m guessing you guys could afford to be drinking vodka for the next six months. You wouldn’t end up homeless. You’re not going to do that, and the reason you’re not going to do that is not because anyone’s stopping you. It’s because you’ve got bonds and connections that you want to be present for. You’ve got work you love. You’ve got people you love. You’ve got healthy relationships. And a core part of addiction, I came to think, and I believe the evidence suggests, is about not being able to bear to be present in your life.

Now, this has really significant implications. The most obvious implications are for the War on Drugs. In Arizona, I went out with a group of women who were made to wear t-shirts saying, “I was a drug addict,” and go out on chain gangs and dig graves while members of the public jeer at them, and when those women get out of prison, they’re going to have criminal records that mean they’ll never work in the legal economy again. Now, that’s a very extreme example, obviously, in the case of the chain gang, but actually almost everywhere in the world we treat addicts to some degree like that. We punish them. We shame them. We give them criminal records. We put barriers between them reconnecting. There was a doctor in Canada, Dr. Gabor Maté, an amazing man, who said to me, if you wanted to design a system that would make addiction worse, you would design that system.

Now, there’s a place that decided to do the exact opposite, and I went there to see how it worked. In the year 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of mind-blowing, and every year, they tried the American way more and more. They punished people and stigmatized them and shamed them more, and every year, the problem got worse. And one day, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition got together, and basically said, look, we can’t go on with a country where we’re having ever more people becoming heroin addicts. Let’s set up a panel of scientists and doctors to figure out what would genuinely solve the problem. And they set up a panel led by an amazing man called Dr. João Goulão, to look at all this new evidence, and they came back and they said, “Decriminalize all drugs from cannabis to crack, but” — and this is the crucial next step — “take all the money we used to spend on cutting addicts off, on disconnecting them, and spend it instead on reconnecting them with society.” And that’s not really what we think of as drug treatment in the United States and Britain. So they do do residential rehab, they do psychological therapy, that does have some value. But the biggest thing they did was the complete opposite of what we do: a massive program of job creation for addicts, and microloans for addicts to set up small businesses. So say you used to be a mechanic. When you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage, and they’ll say, if you employ this guy for a year, we’ll pay half his wages. The goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning. And when I went and met the addicts in Portugal, what they said is, as they rediscovered purpose, they rediscovered bonds and relationships with the wider society.

It’ll be 15 years this year since that experiment began, and the results are in: injecting drug use is down in Portugal, according to the British Journal of Criminology, by 50 percent, five-zero percent. Overdose is massively down, HIV is massively down among addicts. Addiction in every study is significantly down. One of the ways you know it’s worked so well is that almost nobody in Portugal wants to go back to the old system.

Now, that’s the political implications. I actually think there’s a layer of implications to all this research below that. We live in a culture where people feel really increasingly vulnerable to all sorts of addictions, whether it’s to their smartphones or to shopping or to eating. Before these talks began — you guys know this — we were told we weren’t allowed to have our smartphones on, and I have to say, a lot of you looked an awful lot like addicts who were told their dealer was going to be unavailable for the next couple of hours. (Laughter) A lot of us feel like that, and it might sound weird to say, I’ve been talking about how disconnection is a major driver of addiction and weird to say it’s growing, because you think we’re the most connected society that’s ever been, surely. But I increasingly began to think that the connections we have or think we have, are like a kind of parody of human connection. If you have a crisis in your life, you’ll notice something. It won’t be your Twitter followers who come to sit with you. It won’t be your Facebook friends who help you turn it round. It’ll be your flesh and blood friends who you have deep and nuanced and textured, face-to-face relationships with, and there’s a study I learned about from Bill McKibben, the environmental writer, that I think tells us a lot about this. It looked at the number of close friends the average American believes they can call on in a crisis. That number has been declining steadily since the 1950s. The amount of floor space an individual has in their home has been steadily increasing, and I think that’s like a metaphor for the choice we’ve made as a culture. We’ve traded floorspace for friends, we’ve traded stuff for connections, and the result is we are one of the loneliest societies there has ever been. And Bruce Alexander, the guy who did the Rat Park experiment, says, we talk all the time in addiction about individual recovery, and it’s right to talk about that, but we need to talk much more about social recovery. Something’s gone wrong with us, not just with individuals but as a group, and we’ve created a society where, for a lot of us, life looks a whole lot more like that isolated cage and a whole lot less like Rat Park.

If I’m honest, this isn’t why I went into it. I didn’t go in to the discover the political stuff, the social stuff. I wanted to know how to help the people I love. And when I came back from this long journey and I’d learned all this, I looked at the addicts in my life, and if you’re really candid, it’s hard loving an addict, and there’s going to be lots of people who know in this room. You are angry a lot of the time, and I think one of the reasons why this debate is so charged is because it runs through the heart of each of us, right? Everyone has a bit of them that looks at an addict and thinks, I wish someone would just stop you. And the kind of scripts we’re told for how to deal with the addicts in our lives is typified by, I think, the reality show “Intervention,” if you guys have ever seen it. I think everything in our lives is defined by reality TV, but that’s another TED Talk. If you’ve ever seen the show “Intervention,” it’s a pretty simple premise. Get an addict, all the people in their life, gather them together, confront them with what they’re doing, and they say, if you don’t shape up, we’re going to cut you off. So what they do is they take the connection to the addict, and they threaten it, they make it contingent on the addict behaving the way they want. And I began to think, I began to see why that approach doesn’t work, and I began to think that’s almost like the importing of the logic of the Drug War into our private lives.

So I was thinking, how could I be Portuguese? And what I’ve tried to do now, and I can’t tell you I do it consistently and I can’t tell you it’s easy, is to say to the addicts in my life that I want to deepen the connection with them, to say to them, I love you whether you’re using or you’re not. I love you, whatever state you’re in, and if you need me, I’ll come and sit with you because I love you and I don’t want you to be alone or to feel alone.

And I think the core of that message — you’re not alone, we love you — has to be at every level of how we respond to addicts, socially, politically and individually. For 100 years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts. I think all along we should have been singing love songs to them, because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.

Thank you.

 

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All you have is TODAY . . .

When you wake up in the morning, do not expect to see the evening  – live as though today is all that you have. Yesterday has passed with its good and evil, while tomorrow has not yet arrived, if it ever will.

Therefore, your life’s span is but one day, as if you were born in it and will die at the end of it. With this attitude, you will not be caught between an obsession over the past, with all its anxieties, and the hopes of the future, with all its uncertainties.

Live for today ! During this day you should pray with a wakeful heart, and recite the Quran with understand and remember your lord with sincerity. In this day you should be balanced in your affairs, satisfied with what you been blessed with and concerned with your appearance and health.

Organize the hours of this day, so that you make years out of minutes and months out of seconds. Seek forgiveness from your Lord and prepare for the final parting from this world, and live today happily and truly and be at peace. Be content with your sustenance, your wife, your children, your work, your house, and your station in life.

So hold that which I have given you and be one of the grateful

Quran 7:144

Live today free of sorrow, bother, anger, jealousy and malice.

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Remember these lines . . .

“Today is my only day. If you have eaten warm, fresh bread today, then what do yesterday’s dry, rotten bread and tomorrow’s anticipated bread matter?

When you achieve this attitude, you will profit from every moment of your day, by continuously developing your abilities, and purifying your deeds. Then you say to yourself:

Today I shall be refined in my speech and will utter neither evil speech nor obscenity. Also I shall not backbite.

Today I shall organize my house and my office. They will not be disorderly and chaotic, but organized and neat.

Today I will be particular about my body cleanliness and appearance. I will be meticulous in my neatness and balanced in my walk, talk and actions.

Today i will strive to be obedient to my Lord, pray in the best manner possible, do more voluntary acts of righteousness and kindness, recite the Quran and read beneficial books. I will plant goodness into my hearts and extract from it the roots of evil – such as pride, jealousy, and hypocrisy.

Today I will try to help others – to visit the sick, to attend a funeral, to guide the one who is lost, and to feed the hungry. I will stand side by side with the oppressed and the weak. I will pay respect to the scholar, be merciful to the young, and reverent to the old.

O’ past that has departed and gone, I will not cry over you. You will not see me remembering you, not even for a moment because you have traveled away from me never to return.

O’ future, you are in the realm of the unseen, so I will not be obsessed by your dreams. I will not be preoccupied about what is to come because tomorrow is nothing which has yet to be created.

‘Today is my only day’ is one of the most important statements in the dictionary of happiness, for those who desire to live life in its truly fullest splendor and brilliance.

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The Past is Forever Gone

By worrying over the past and its tragedies, one parades a form of insanity – a kind of sickness that destroys the will to live for the present moment. Those who have a firm purpose have filed away and forgotten the occurrences of the past, the past of which will never again see light, since they occupy such a dark place in the recesses of the mind. Affairs of the past are finished with ; the events already unfolded, sadness cannot retrieve them, melancholy cannot make things right, and depression will never bring the past back to life and neither can you do anything to change it. This is because the past is non-existent.

Do not live in the nightmares of former times or under the shade of what you have missed. Save yourself from the ghostly apparition of the past. Do you think that you can return the sun to its place of rising, the baby to its mother’s womb, milk to the udder, or tears to the eye? By constantly dwelling on the past and its happenings, you place yourself in a very frightful and tragic state of mind.

Reading too much into the past is a waste of the present. When Allah mentioned the affairs of the previous nations, He, the Exalted said:

That was a nation who has passed away

Quran 2:134

Former days are gone and done with, and you gain nothing by carrying out an autopsy over them, by turning back the wheels of history.

The person who lives in the past is like someone who tries to saw sawdust. Of old, they used to say, “Do not remove the dead from their graves”.

Our tragedy is that we are incapable of dealing with the present: neglecting our beautiful castles, we wail over dilapidated buildings. if every man were to try to bring back the past, they would most certainly fail. Everything on earth marches forward, preparing for a new season – and so should you.

Stop thinking – what if i did that – what if i do this – Stop, just live in the moment because as far as we concern, this moment is all we have and this present moment is passing by under our noses.

Make a past that you’ll love to remember, one that will bring smile to your face.

Just stop your regrets, and start living mindfully.

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A Simple Way To Break Bad Habits

When I was first learning to meditate, the instruction was to simply pay attention to my breath, and when my mind wandered, to bring it back.

Sounded simple enough. Yet I’d sit on these silent retreats, sweating through T-shirts in the middle of winter. I’d take naps every chance I got because it was really hard work. Actually, it was exhausting. The instruction was simple enough but I was missing something really important.

So why is it so hard to pay attention? Well, studies show that even when we’re really trying to pay attention to something — like maybe this talk — at some point, about half of us will drift off into a daydream, or have this urge to check our Twitter feed.

So what’s going on here? It turns out that we’re fighting one of the most evolutionarily-conserved learning processes currently known in science, one that’s conserved back to the most basic nervous systems known to man.

This reward-based learning process is called positive and negative reinforcement, and basically goes like this. We see some food that looks good, our brain says, “Calories! … Survival!” We eat the food, we taste it — it tastes good. And especially with sugar, our bodies send a signal to our brain that says, “Remember what you’re eating and where you found it.” We lay down this context-dependent memory and learn to repeat the process next time. See food, eat food, feel good, repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward.

Simple, right? Well, after a while, our creative brains say, “You know what? You can use this for more than just remembering where food is. You know, next time you feel bad, why don’t you try eating something good so you’ll feel better?” We thank our brains for the great idea, try this and quickly learn that if we eat chocolate or ice cream when we’re mad or sad, we feel better.

Same process, just a different trigger. Instead of this hunger signal coming from our stomach, this emotional signal — feeling sad — triggers that urge to eat.

Maybe in our teenage years, we were a nerd at school, and we see those rebel kids outside smoking and we think, “Hey, I want to be cool.” So we start smoking. The Marlboro Man wasn’t a dork, and that was no accident. See cool, smoke to be cool, feel good. Repeat. Trigger, behavior, reward. And each time we do this, we learn to repeat the process and it becomes a habit. So later, feeling stressed out triggers that urge to smoke a cigarette or to eat something sweet.

Now, with these same brain processes, we’ve gone from learning to survive to literally killing ourselves with these habits. Obesity and smoking are among the leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the world.

So back to my breath. What if instead of fighting our brains, or trying to force ourselves to pay attention, we instead tapped into this natural, reward-based learning process … but added a twist? What if instead we just got really curious about what was happening in our momentary experience?

I’ll give you an example. In my lab, we studied whether mindfulness training could help people quit smoking. Now, just like trying to force myself to pay attention to my breath, they could try to force themselves to quit smoking. And the majority of them had tried this before and failed — on average, six times.

Now, with mindfulness training, we dropped the bit about forcing and instead focused on being curious. In fact, we even told them to smoke. What? Yeah, we said, “Go ahead and smoke, just be really curious about what it’s like when you do.”

And what did they notice? Well here’s an example from one of our smokers. She said, “Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, YUCK!” Now, she knew, cognitively that smoking was bad for her, that’s why she joined our program. What she discovered just by being curiously aware when she smoked was that smoking tastes like shit.

Now, she moved from knowledge to wisdom. She moved from knowing in her head that smoking was bad for her to knowing it in her bones, and the spell of smoking was broken. She started to become disenchanted with her behavior.

Now, the prefrontal cortex, that youngest part of our brain from an evolutionary perspective, it understands on an intellectual level that we shouldn’t smoke. And it tries its hardest to help us change our behavior, to help us stop smoking, to help us stop eating that second, that third, that fourth cookie. We call this cognitive control. We’re using cognition to control our behavior. Unfortunately, this is also the first part of our brain that goes offline when we get stressed out, which isn’t that helpful.

Now, we can all relate to this in our own experience. We’re much more likely to do things like yell at our spouse or kids when we’re stressed out or tired, even though we know it’s not going to be helpful. We just can’t help ourselves.

When the prefrontal cortex goes offline, we fall back into our old habits, which is why this disenchantment is so important. Seeing what we get from our habits helps us understand them at a deeper level — to know it in our bones so we don’t have to force ourselves to hold back or restrain ourselves from behavior. We’re just less interested in doing it in the first place.

And this is what mindfulness is all about: Seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviors, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance, naturally letting go.

This isn’t to say that, poof, magically we quit smoking. But over time, as we learn to see more and more clearly the results of our actions, we let go of old habits and form new ones.

The paradox here is that mindfulness is just about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. This willingness to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away as quickly as possible. And this willingness to turn toward our experience is supported by curiosity, which is naturally rewarding.

What does curiosity feel like? It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings are simply made up of body sensations — oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness — and that these body sensations come and go. These are bite-size pieces of experiences that we can manage from moment to moment rather than getting clobbered by this huge, scary craving that we choke on.

In other words, when we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being. We become this inner scientist where we’re eagerly awaiting that next data point.

Now, this might sound too simplistic to affect behavior. But in one study, we found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking. So it actually works.

And when we studied the brains of experienced meditators, we found that parts of a neural network of self-referential processing called the default mode network were at play. Now, one current hypothesis is that a region of this network, called the posterior cingulate cortex, is activated not necessarily by craving itself but when we get caught up in it, when we get sucked in, and it takes us for a ride.

In contrast, when we let go — step out of the process just by being curiously aware of what’s happening — this same brain region quiets down.

Now we’re testing app and online-based mindfulness training programs that target these core mechanisms and, ironically, use the same technology that’s driving us to distraction to help us step out of our unhealthy habit patterns of smoking, of stress eating and other addictive behaviors.

Now, remember that bit about context-dependent memory? We can deliver these tools to peoples’ fingertips in the contexts that matter most. So we can help them tap into their inherent capacity to be curiously aware right when that urge to smoke or stress eat or whatever arises.

So if you don’t smoke or stress eat, maybe the next time you feel this urge to check your email when you’re bored, or you’re trying to distract yourself from work, or maybe to compulsively respond to that text message when you’re driving, see if you can tap into this natural capacity, just be curiously aware of what’s happening in your body and mind in that moment. It will just be another chance to perpetuate one of our endless and exhaustive habit loops … or step out of it.

Instead of see text message, compulsively text back, feel a little bit better — notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat.

Thank you.

Reference

[1] Judy Brewer TED Talk

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Why Am I So Sad

Feeling down? Got the blues? You’re not alone. Everyone gets sad. Yes, everyone you’ve ever met. Some people have sad feelings just once in a while, and others may have sad feelings pretty often. More than half of teenagers go through a sad period at least once a month and plenty of younger kids do, too.

When you’re in a sad mood, it may feel like it will last forever, but usually feelings of sadness don’t last very long — a few hours or maybe a day or two. A deeper, more intense kind of sadness that lasts a lot longer is called depression

What Is Sadness?

Sadness is a feeling — it’s one of the many normal human emotions, or moods, we all have. Sadness is the emotion people feel when they’ve lost something important, or when they have been disappointed about something, or when something sad has happened to them or to someone else. When they’re lonely, people often feel sad.

When you’re sad, the world may seem dark and unfriendly. You might feel like you have nothing to look forward to. The hurt deep inside may crush your usually good mood.

Sadness makes you feel like crying, and sometimes the tears are hard to stop. Crying often makes you feel better.

Sometimes when your mood is sad, you just feel like being alone for a little while. Or you might want someone to comfort you or just keep you company while you go through the sad feeling. Talking about what has made you sad usually helps the sad feeling melt away.

When sadness starts to go away, it can feel like a heavy blanket is being lifted from your shoulders.

When Is It Natural to Feel Sad?

Feeling sad every once in a while is natural. Maybe you didn’t get something you really wanted. Maybe you miss somebody. Maybe somebody you really like doesn’t want to be friends, and you don’t feel so great about yourself. Maybe an illness or condition gets in the way of doing some things you want to do or makes you different from your friends. There are lots of reasons that people feel sadness.

Most of the time, sadness is because of a loss or separation, a difficult change or disappointment about something, or relationship problems.

Loss and Separation

This is the most common cause of sadness. It’s a very sad thing to lose someone or something that you care about. There are many kinds of loss. The death of a relative, friend, or pet can bring weeks or months of sad feelings. The kind of sadness you feel from the death of a loved one has a special name — grief.

Other kinds of loss or separation from important people can also bring sadness, like people close to you getting a divorce. Sometimes it is hard to think straight because you cannot get your mind off your loss. Usually, the load of sadness you carry after a loss will lighten over time, although for a really big loss, there may always be a little bit of sadness left.

Changes

Changes that involve leaving something (or someone) behind, likemoving to a new town or changing schools and leaving old friends can make you feel sad, too. The arrival of a new brother or sister may make you feel sad even though everyone thinks you should be happy to have a new sibling.

Disappointments

Disappointments like losing a game you hoped to win, getting a poor grade, or not being invited to a party can cause sadness. Sadness is a natural reaction to those things. How sad a person feels is usually related to how big or small the loss or disappointment is.

Relationships

Relationships bring happiness and fun much of the time. But tension or conflict in important relationships, or relationships that break up, can cause sadness, too. Many kids fight with family members, especially their parents, in the struggle to grow up and gain independence.

People often feel sad when all is not right between them and their loved ones, or when they get criticized or yelled at a lot. They fight about things like money, clothing, haircuts, school, and friends. In school, problems with teachers and grades may cause some sadness as well.

More Stuff That Makes Kids Sad

Other kids, both friends and enemies, can cause hurt feelings and sadness through fighting, teasing, peer pressure, not giving you support, or leaving you out of group activities. Feeling misunderstood by people close to you can lead to feelings of sadness.

Sometimes with sadness, there are other feelings mixed in, too. When you’re sad, you might also feel angry or guilty. You might feel like blaming others or blaming yourself. Some kids mistakenly think that sad events like death, illness, or divorce are all their fault — but this isn’t true. Kids don’t cause these things to happen.

When Is Sadness a Problem?

If a sad feeling goes on for too long, hurts too deeply, and makes it hard for you to enjoy the good things about your life, it’s called depression.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of depression:

  • feeling empty or numb
  • feeling hopeless (like there’s nothing to look forward to)
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • feeling lonely or unloved
  • feeling irritable and annoyed a lot (every little thing gets on your nerves)
  • feeling like things are not fun anymore
  • having trouble keeping your mind on schoolwork or homework or getting bad grades
  • having trouble keeping your mind on things like reading or watching TV or not remembering what a book or a TV show was about
  • having less energy and feeling tired all the time
  • sleeping too much or not enough
  • not eating enough and weight loss or eating too much and weight gain
  • thinking about death or thinking about suicide
  • spending less time with friends and more time alone
  • crying a lot, often for no reason
  • feeling restless (being unable to sit still or relax)
  • having certain body feelings, like lots of stomachaches,headaches, or chest pain

People who have depression may not even know it. Often it’s a parent or teacher who notices behavior changes like the ones in the list above. Depression can run in families. Having a parent who gets depressed makes it more likely for a kid to become depressed.

Some kids have depression after the loss of someone really close, such as a parent; long-lasting problems at home, including violence, illness, divorce, or alcohol or drug use; child abuse or neglect; rape; and long-term illness, burns, or accidents. But sometimes kids may be depressed for no apparent reason.

Getting Help

Kids, teens, and adults can get depression. It’s very important for people of any age who have depression to get help. When they do, they can get better quickly. Sometimes treatment involves talking to someone who knows all about depression. Sometimes medications can help depression heal. Sometimes both of these things are used.

If you think you have depression or you just have sadness that simply will not go away, it is important to talk to an adult about it: a parent, relative, doctor, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or close adult friend. This person can help you find the right type of treatment. Many cities also have mental health hotlines or suicide hotlines that are listed in the phone book. There is always somebody to talk to when you are sad or if you are depressed — somebody who can help. Life is always going to be tough, you will not always get what you want, but remeber, there is always someone that loves you, and their life depends on you. even though you lost hope, live your life for them.