Melancholy and happiness

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Downloads (Pure)


This paper explores an under-theorised phenomenon - the experience of melancholy as an enhancer of happiness. Drawing from philosophy and literature, I define melancholy as an experience which combines the pleasure of feeling sad with sober self-reflection. Despite expectations to the contrary, two potentially positive outcomes of melancholy are identified - insightful pensiveness, and emotional connectedness with loss and pain. These outcomes can enhance happiness as understood in key texts of contemporary Anglo-American philosophy, and, consistent with findings in psychology, also have important implications for wider debates in social policy and welfare practice. First, the pensiveness associated with melancholy can make unique contributions to personal insights, and help develop and fulfill 'authentic happiness' and 'informed desires'. These contributions oppose hedonist accounts of happiness, but are conducive to enhancing happiness properly understood. Second, melancholy can also provide a psychologically safe arena for experiencing loss and pain, where a person can more positively accept the limits of the human condition. This acceptance enhances her happiness, as she is better able to live 'in the moment' and so derive satisfaction from her presently-orientated activities and commitments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1 - 12
Number of pages11
JournalSouth African Journal of Philosophy
Issue number4
Early online date31 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2014


  • philosophy
  • social policy
  • happiness
  • well-being
  • melancholy
  • psychology
  • contemporary philosophy
  • loss


Dive into the research topics of 'Melancholy and happiness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this