What does it mean to feel happy-sad? And why is this always such a difficult feeling to put into words? Not happy-turned-sad or the other way around, but together in one, partly sunny emotion. I recently watched La La Land again, and was pleasantly reminded that this complex emotion exists.

Think about how you are able to look back on a memory fondly, one that brought you joy, laughter, excitement, love; but one that has passed. The moment, though a wonderful one, is gone. The closest label I can think of is a kind of cathartic nostalgia. Sometimes it feels good to ache and embrace life’s growing pains.

So, when we see a movie or hear a song that makes us happy-sad, I believe it’s a mixture of this nostalgic heartbreak coupled with a unique appreciation for life in a greater sense of the word. Everyone experiences these things, from heart wrenching depression to blinding joy and it’s comforting to remember that even though life is really tough sometimes, full of ups and downs, we’re all on the ride together. Our ability to relate to these emotions gives us an instant and forceful connection back to a similar moment in our life. Very few things can do this effectively and in my eyes, is the hallmark of a truly good story. It will hit you in exactly the right way, like a lightning bolt, and you just… get it.

It is for the reason that happy-sad is one of my favorite emotions. It’s not necessarily even pleasant, but it’s genuine, unfiltered, and uncontrollable. All qualities that make up any raw emotion, I suppose. It’s a theme that has been part of human storytelling for a long time and will continue to spring up in our movies, books, and music until the end of time. From Romeo & Juliet to Inside Out, from the opening notes of “God Only Knows” to the last episode of The Office, happy-sad poignantly strikes a chord close to home for anyone and everyone who has a love for life.

The famous Dr. Seuss quote comes to mind,

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

I think it’s important to remember sometimes it’s ok to do both.

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