The feeling when you lost something that was important to you. You have the urge to withdraw and to seek comfort.

Sadness is perhaps the best-known negative emotion, and often seen as the opposite of happiness. Everything that we gain in life, we ultimately also lose. We feel sad when we lose something important, which can be material possessions (e.g., losing your favorite shoes), financial assets (e.g., losing your money on the stock market), a relationship (e.g., going through a breakup), a social status (e.g., cease to be admired), or a pleasure (e.g., giving up smoking)1. The loss itself can take place in many ways, depending on the thing that is lost – it can literally get lost, but also irreparably damage, cease, vanish, pass away, decrease or irrevocably change.

People who are sad are essentially trying to deal with their loss, and to accommodate for life without the cherished thing. Depending on the weight of the loss this can take minutes (e.g., after losing one’s seat on the bus) to years (e.g., after losing a dear friend). Sad people often have the urge to stop their regular activities and reflect on their situation2. For grave losses, this can become a reflection on one’s own finite existence3. Some people prefer to do this alone, while others seek company to process the loss together. People’s bodies facilitate this by decreasing physical energy and increasing mental energy, which is why people will be in the mood for passive activities rather than active ones. Apart from the need to make sense of the loss, people also have a desire for physical reward (e.g., comfort food) and social comfort (e.g., spending time with family or close friends)4.

In the comic, Murphy has just learned that he lost his job. As his work was the only thing in his life that he thought was going well, the news comes as a big blow.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“I will miss this.”

“I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Sadness & Disappointment

Disappointment and sadness have in common that they are both evoked when you lose something, and you have very little control over the situation. However, sadness implies the loss of something that a person already possessed or maintained – such as a precious object, a good job or a meaningful relationship – whereas disappointment is the loss of the promise or hope of something good – such as the anticipation of getting a promotion or a first date. Therefore, it make sense to say that someone was disappointed when they did not get the promotion they wanted, but it does not make sense to say someone was disappointed when they suddenly lost their job.

Sadness & Pity

Pity and sadness are both feelings about bad things that have already taken place, and may experientially feel quite similar. The most obvious difference is that pity is always about the bad things that happened to someone else, while sadness is about your own misery. Secondly, sadness is about the loss of something important, while pity is about someone’s overall bad situation. Compared to sadness, pity is thus a more global judgment about a person. This means that someone who looks at herself ‘from a distance’ and judges that she is unfortunate, will be experiencing ‘self-pity’ rather than sadness.

Sadness & Anger

Although not often confused, it is insightful to compare sadness and anger. On the most general level, they are evaluations of something bad that has happened. If your car is stolen, you will likely be both sad (about the car) and angry (with the thief). However, if someone insults you, you are probably only angry. Alternatively, if your grandfather passes, you are probably only sad. The most important difference between the emotions is that anger is triggered by bad things for which you can blame someone, whereas sadness is evoked by bad things that are the result of circumstance or bad luck.

Sources and further reading