Think of the person who loves you more than anyone else in this world does. And now think about how that person would feel if you suddenly died. Would he or she be utterly heartbroken? Filled with despair? Or would the person perhaps be deeply unhappy but somehow manage to make it through the next year or so?
As it happens, there has been a great deal of systematic psychological research on this topic, and the overwhelming preponderance of data supports the conclusion that most people simply aren’t that disturbed when their loved ones die. People appear to be upset for a relatively short time and then — after that brief interval is over — they feel more or less the same as they did before. Thus, one recent study showed that people sometimes felt more depressed immediately after their loved ones died but that even two months after the death of their loved ones there was no significant increase in depression.
Psychologists sometimes suggest that we should be happy and inspired to find that people show such ‘resilience’ in the face of hardship. They suggest that it is a good thing that people are able to get over their problems and simply move on.
But in a forthcoming paper (titled, appropriately enough, ‘Love and Death‘), the philosopher Dan Moller argues for a more bittersweet conclusion. Although there is surely something good about the fact that people are able to avoid sadness in these difficult straits, he claims that there is actually something to be regretted about our surprising resilience. The problem, he suggests, is that our lack of emotional response shows a failure to properly appreciate the importance of those we care for most.
I think his paper is fantastic, and I would encourage you all to read it… but whether you read it or not, I would love to hear your thoughts on the basic thesis. Is there something of value in the despair and suffering we sometimes experience when bad things happen to those we love? Even if no good consequences come from this feeling, might there be something of value in the feeling itself?