Just Let the Sadness Hit You Like a Truck

by Site Author

In an appearance on the Conan O’Brien show, the comedian Louis CK was asked why he doesn’t let his kids have cell phones. The following is his response. (I’ve made some minor edits.)

You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. It’s the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person.

Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty-forever empty. Just that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. You know it’s down there. And sometimes when things clear away and you are not watching it, you are in your car and you start going “oh no, here comes that ‘I’m alone.'” It starts to visit on you.

Life is tremendously sad just by being in it, and so you’re driving and then you go “ah-ah-ah.” That’s why we text and drive. I look around pretty much 100 percent of people driving are texting. And they are murdering each other with their cars. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second. Because it’s so hard.

I was in my car one time and a Bruce Springsteen song comes on, Jungleland. I heard it and it gave me a fall-back-to-school depression feeling, it made me really sad. And I go, okay, I’m getting sad, I gotta get the phone and write “hi” to 50 people…

So I started to get that sad feeling, and I was reaching for the phone. Then I said: just be sad. Just let the sadness stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck. And I let it come and I just started to feel. I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. It was this beautiful sadness, it’s poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad your body has antibodies. It has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness.

We don’t want that first bit of sad. We push it away with a little phone. And then you never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your product. And then you die.

So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

On this, Louis CK shares the view of Nietzsche. Nietzsche argued that we can only shut ourselves off from pain if we also shut ourselves off from pleasure. As he put it:

What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other? You have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of subtle pleasures and joys. If you decide for the former and desire to diminish human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of your capacity for joy.

When I first read those lines, many years ago, I thought he was referring to the big, dramatic ways in which we suffer: death, illness, big life events. But now I wonder whether Nietzsche, at least in part, was also referring to the little moments, the ones that Louis CK describes. Those little moments are still painful. But avoiding them comes at a cost.