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A Little About Depression and Sorrow*

We discussed about al-Kindi’s On the Means of Dispelling Sorrows and how he examines depression. Al-Kindi explains that all of our sorrows are caused by our attachment to worldly things like our loved ones, achievements, passions, and possessions as such. He says that once we manage to not to too deeply attach to these, we will not feel sorrow when we lose them, or don't have them at all.

Below, I will argue for two things about al-Kindi’s work. First, I will try to explain that sorrow is not necessarily bad -even though it internally is-, it is not a necessity to avoid and not stupidity to want; and secondly, not all sadnesses arise from worldly things.

Although al-Kindi might find wanting sorrow stupid, I'd argue that sorrow and pain are good for human development -sometimes even necessary. Because we slowly begin to mature after overcoming such difficulties -losses for example.

Besides, when we're depressed, or simply just feeling blue, our thoughts and feelings naturally change, we become more pessimistic about ourselves, who we are, our future, and about our past. We're more likely to remember past failures, regrets, losses, and longings. It would be a good idea to remain self-aware of ourselves during these times of depression and to keep note of ourselves so that we can fix them afterwards. These moments are times when our fears, regrets surface, and should be seen as opportunities to examine ourselves, they can be used for inspection. PMS, for example, or a non-severe form of depression, is a good opportunity for people analyze themselves and to spot the problems in one's life. Finding and being able to solve these are the hard parts and take effort. Since neither these good times nor the bad times are permanent, instead of trying to find out how to avoid the bad times, creating strategies to learn from them is more efficient and healthy. Because life is full of cycles -nature, human biology, psychology, the whole universe basically- and this is only one of them, it’s the cycle of sadness and happiness; sorrow and joy. This means that no matter how euphoric we might be feeling right now, it will be over and a down-time will eventually come. So it doesn’t make sense trying to avoid something that we know will happen. It’s more meaningful to embrace our pains.

In Qur'an, the book Muslims consider to be holy and the word of God, as did al-Kindi, it is emphasized by repeating twice that after difficulties, there is relief:

''For indeed, with hardship (will be) ease. Indeed, with hardship (will be) ease'' (94:5-6).

The second point I want to make is that not all sorrows emerge from worldly things. One can simply be sad for being alive, for not being with his God for example. Or one simply might not have any possessions that will actually hold him. There are many people who are depressed and commit suicide because they don't have a supportive environment -family and friends-, a job, a sense of achievement in this world. So, in a sense, having possessions makes us healthy, they keep us alive. We are often depressed because we don’t have friends, because we are unemployed (leading cause of depression in men), and because we are dissatisfied by what we haven’t been able to achieve. Sometimes the reason can be not being able to be a good-enough child -or parent- to one another.

Al-Kindi divides sorrow into two classes: the ones that results from one’s own actions and those result from others’ actions (p.26). Here, another point I want to make is that attachment to worldly things sometimes take place unintentionally. A pregnant woman attaches so deeply with her baby (due to the release of oxytocin), having a miscarriage leads to PTSD or to at least some kind of depression. Even mothers who don't want to have their babies and choose to have an abortion suffer from this.

As mentioned in class al-Kindi divides his cosmology into two categories: things that are permanent and transient. He underlines that neither happiness nor sadness is permanent. So, since happiness is not permanent, it doesn’t make sense to look for all these ways to avoid sadness, because it will come eventually. And unlike al-Kindi claims (p. 25), one can be delightful for encountering sorrow because it leads to self-growth or just because it’s a change in the course of life. What’s important is to figure out the ways to deal with it in the most efficient ways.


Al-Kindi. ‘’On the means of dispelling sorrows’’, in (Ed., McGinnis, & Reisman) Classical Arabic Philosophy: An Anthropology of Sources, pp. 23-36.


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