St. Thomas Aquinas’ remedy for sadness

By Engr. Carlos Cornejo

We might think that St. Thomas Aquinas being a brilliant theologian, if not the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) among theologians much like Michael Jordan is the GOAT among NBA players, would just talk only about spiritual matters.  Surprisingly, he is practical and down to earth as well.  Here are his remedies to sadness from Summa Theologica that we can apply in our day and age.

First remedy if you are feeling blue is to grant yourself what you like.  If you like ice cream go for it.  If you need to drink a beer or a glass of wine to relax a bit, have one.  If you need to unwind by playing a game either a physical game of basketball or a mental game of chess, card games or computer games then do it.  Others might prefer to go to the beach or to the mountains and interact with nature, this would also do.  The idea is to reward yourself with something you like and help your mind be diverted from your worries.

Second remedy is weeping.  Saint Thomas actual words from his book about this remedy says that “a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened.”  A bad feeling bottled up inside us could get worse if we don’t release it in a physical way.  Weeping is the soul’s way to release a sorrow that can become paralyzing. Jesus wept too. And Pope Francis said that there are “certain truths in life that can only be seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I invite each of you to ask yourself: Have I learned how to cry?”

Third remedy is sharing our sorrow with a friend.  Women are inherently good at this.  They would almost automatically tell their women friends if they have problems.   But this is a problem for men.  Men have a tendency to solve things on their own because men are inclined to believe it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help.  That it is unmanly or not macho not being able to conquer challenges on your own.  Men should be humble enough to acknowledge that sometimes we don’t have all the answers.  Other men or women can give us some advice.  Besides, the act of sharing a sorrow to someone we can trust even without asking for an advice to our problem from others, is a remedy in itself for releasing our negative feelings.  As the saying goes, “A problem shared is half solved.”

Fourth remedy is contemplating the truth.  What St. Thomas refers to here is wisdom or trying to see the big picture with our problems.  It is remembering that this is a very imperfect world and that perfect happiness can only be found in the next (life).  Problems are inevitable, because of our fallen nature prone to error and sin, and because this is how God created our world as a place and time for testing. We are still students taking an exam and graduation is still far off.   It should lead us to contemplate on the true meaning of life, why God allows evil to happen and how we can turn disappointments and frustrations into something good for our soul.

Fifth is taking a bath and sleep well.  It can also mean doing some physical exercise.  These are in line with what psychologists would recommend to relieve stress.  Exercise releases chemicals in our bodies called endorphins, a chemical that triggers positive feelings, while a good sleep reboots our brains that makes us see our worries in a different light.