L ook, I know you think the fact you feel upset or angry or anxious is important. Hell, you probably think that because you feel like your face just got shat on makes you important. Feelings are just these… things that happen. The meaning we build around them—what we decide is important or unimportant —comes later.
There are only two reasons to do anything in life: Sometimes these two reasons align.
Acting based on our feelings is easy. Then you do it. But then that satisfaction is gone just as quickly as it came. Often we have to feel ambivalent about our conclusions or fight through our lower impulses.
We feel pride remembering it years later. Well, like many things in life, it is simple.
And then you shamelessly inhale a pint of Cherry Garcia. But fuck it, who cares? This is America and the whole point is to get fat doing whatever you want. If you do this sort of thing long enough—if you convince yourself that what feels good is the same as what is good —then your brain will actually start to mix the two up. Your brain will start thinking the whole point of life is to just feel really awesome, as often as possible. And once that happens, well…. Now, if this is rubbing you the wrong way right now, just think Go fuck yourself i hate your world it for a second.
You were too impulsive. Or too self-righteous and thought yourself the center of the universe. Feelings have a way of doing that, you know?
A lot of young people hate hearing this because they grew up with parents who worshipped their feelings as children, and protected those feelings, and tried to buy as many candy corns and swimming lessons as necessary to make sure those feelings were nice and fuzzy and protected at all times. Sadly, these parents probably did this because they were also beholden to their own feelings, because they were unable to tolerate the pain of watching a child struggle, even if just for a moment.
The problem is when you start trying to control your own emotionsthe emotions multiply. The fuckers just keep popping up all over the place. There are four types of meta-feelings: They make us feel justified in our jealousy. They applaud us Go fuck yourself i hate your world our pride. They shove our faces in our own pain.
If you always feel good about feeling goodyou will become self-absorbed and feel entitled to those around you. And then there are those who feel bad about feeling bad.
This is the Feedback Loop from Hell that many of us are thrust into by our cultureour family and the self-help industry at large. But perhaps the worst meta-feeling is increasingly the most common: People who feel good about feeling bad get to enjoy a certain righteous indignation.
They feel morally superior in their suffering, that they are somehow martyrs in a cruel world. Moralizing mobs on both the political right and left see themselves as victimized and somehow special in every miniscule pain or setback they experience.
Greed skyrockets while the rich congratulate themselves on being rich in tandem with the increasing rates of anxiety and depression as the lower and middle classes hate themselves for feeling left behind. These narratives are spun not only by ourselves but fed by the narratives invented in the media. Political memes on the left create the same self-righteousness, but instead of appealing to fear, they appeal to intellect and arrogance.
Consumer culture pushes you to make decisions based on feeling great and then congratulates you for those decisions, while our religions tell us to feel bad about how bad we feel. To unspin these stories we must come back to a simple truth: They merely mean whatever you allow them to mean.
Maybe there are eight different reasons I can be sad today. Sometimes, good things will make you feel bad. Sometimes, bad things will make you feel good. Sometimes, you will feel bad about feeling good about a bad thing and you will feel good about feeling bad about a good thi—you know what? But they say none of these things. Sometimes you hurt for a good reason. Sometimes for a bad reason. And sometimes no reason at all.
The hurt itself is neutral. The reason is separate. The point is that you get to decide. And many of us have either forgotten or never realized that fact.
But we decide what our pain means. Just as we decide what our successes expose.
And more often than not, any answer except one will tear you apart inside. And that answer is: We all think we know ourselves well, but psychological studies show otherwise.