COLUMN: The Joy Of Melancholy

7th November 2012 0 By Professor Ball

As The GayUK is looking at mental health this month, I felt it was important to focus on wellbeing, and what one can consciously do to help appreciate everyday surroundings.

Often when melancholy is approached in language it refers to a mental state of depression. Its history lies in being recognised as one of the four fundamental bodily fluids, or ‘spirits’, also known as ‘black bile’. My definition of melancholy is slightly different. It is one of poetic longing through loss, a definition which would express some kind of inner sorrow or longing for what once was. The properties of nostalgia, memory and loss extends this feeling; underpinned with an undertone of revelry and self revelation. The exquisite complexity of feeling passes through a transition of sadness or emptiness into one of warmth and contentment.

‘Day after day we engage in the same mundane activities, at the same time in the same order, and this routines predictability allows us to take the everyday for granted.’ Day to day our lives can appear mundane and dreary; a series of meaningless tasks of necessity. A reversal in perception can transform these quite ordinary tasks into ones of beauty. Emphasis need not be on the negative manifestations of this sombre feeling, but instead on an optimistic approach.
Having read books on mental health and first hand experienced close friends with mental health problems, I wanted to offer a suggestions on how we can all make positive steps forward in our lives. The S-M-I-L-E five steps to positivity ( makes a suggestion of how to consciously adjust our behaviour with regards to wellbeing. This conscious adjustment in mind is something that I have previously researched in depth for my architectural dissertation earlier this year. I investigated how the normal or seemingly banal could be reinterpreted as something new and exciting. The title ‘The Everyday: How can familiarity in the quotidian become strange to reframe the ordinary as extraordinary?’ The aim was to recognise the value of neglected occurrence; the extraordinary in the ordinary. It is these small instances which I believe to supplement the richness of our everyday lives, often not appreciated or exploited to their full potential.
The ‘stuff’ that builds up our everyday can be depressing, including the latest news outlining disastrous reports, the bad weather, small talk with same conversations in constant replay, and the same frustrating routine. But how can one embrace the ordinary to feel happy?
Get outside and walk in the rain.

Go to the beach and breathe in the cold air.

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Sit in an armchair with a coffee and let your imagination go wild.


Look up at the stars and imagine.
Surrounding us, are natural markers of time, such as the sound of falling rain, tracks of the sun, cloud movement, all of which are always evident, but not always noticed or appreciated. The sound of rain as it beats rhythmically on the roof creating an ephemeral beat. The Japanese coined a phrase ‘mono no aware’, which means a sensitivity to the pathos of things; a great life philosophy to utilise. I always think back to the film Into the Wild, where a long time of loneliness resulted in a suggested meaning of life – ‘happiness is only real when shared’. This moment makes my heart pound every time. It is quite simply beautiful.
Even the bleakest of moments can indeed be something of a phenomenon. Wordsworth offered that misery can be a condition for happiness. One must be aware of the potential in the everyday. Stay positive and be inquisitive. There is joy in the most unlikely of places.

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