Our feelings are instrumental to our health and survival, when we feel good it’s an indication that things are going our way, and when we feel bad it’s an indication that things are not going our way. This does not entail that things have to go our way in order for us to feel good, however our feelings serve as an important gauge for how well we are getting our needs met.
Good feelings are fleeting for two reasons, the first reason is because change is a constant in our lives and the second reason is because once we have accomplished a goal or met a need, continuity or maintenance of said accomplishment is needed. For instance, when each of my children were born, I experienced an overwhelming sense of joy. Soon afterwards my attention was called towards issues such as medical expenses, and each child going through their bouts of illness. This doesn’t mean that I still do not feel that joy, but it means that since those special moments in my life, my attention has been called to address other more pressing matters that involve raising my children through their milestones.
Negative feelings on the other hand are a result of things not going our way. The more of a challenge to things going our way we are presented with, the more intense the feelings of negativity we experience. Further, the longer things don’t go our way, the longer we experience negative feelings. This leads to the explanation of why negative feelings seem to last longer than good feelings, actually there are two reasons for this phenomenon. The first is intensity and the other is duration.
When it comes to intensity, the more severe the challenge, the more intense the negative feelings. The more intense the negative feelings, the more likely we are to remember the incident, regardless of whether we discover a solution or otherwise. In our long term memories, we recall severe challenges we experienced, as lasting for longer than they actually did. This is a survival mechanism that is innate to most living animals. If you experience an ordeal, it would be in your best interest never to forgot that ordeal, so in the future you can predict if the ordeal is about to repeat itself and take the necessary steps to not experience the ordeal again, or at least do a better job surviving it. As human beings we have the added advantage of being able to teach our young ones how to predict, avoid and survive ordeals we have experienced.
When it comes to duration, the longer we experience the ordeal, the longer we go through a period of time where we are experiencing negative feelings. The same principles I just explained for negative feelings resulting from severity also apply to negative feelings that are experienced for a significant period of time.
Quite a number of people believe that happiness is connected with good feelings. Such as in the more happy you are the more good feelings you should be experiencing. This mindset sets the foundation for addictive behaviors, this is because one of the many brilliance of the human brain is being able to seek shortcuts towards solving problems. So when someone buys into the belief that happiness is related to how good you feel, during times of distress that message easily becomes distorted into the shortcut message that feeling good is the solution to negative feelings. This is why drugs, alcohol use and other pleasure arousing behaviors are prevalent among people. People who are addicted to drugs or pleasurable behaviors will continue to engage in that addiction until they have developed too much of a tolerance to experience the desired feelings they originally sought. Once tolerance sets in, more intense pleasurable/stimulating behaviors and drugs are sought after.
The key to happiness is achieving peace of mind and the key to achieving a peace of mind is developing a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. The benefits of having an authentic sense of meaning and purpose in your life is that you find it easier to accept life on life’s terms which leads to increased resilience for coping with things not going your way as you come up with solutions. It’s akin to setting a goal for yourself to accomplish, because you have come to believe something sacred about accomplishing that particular goal, to include going through the process to accomplish that goal. If you have ever known anyone who was determined to accomplish something, you can attest to the fact that that person was easily accepting of obstacles they encountered in their journey.
Meaning and purpose can be multifaceted, so using myself as an example I have a sense of meaning and purpose as a father which is different from my sense of meaning and purpose as a professional. Good feelings are fleeting, but with a practice of patience and open mindedness they can be plentiful, but they are not the key to being at peace.
In my next post, I will go into detail about how to go about achieving a sense of meaning and purpose.
Ugo is psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling and life coaching practice.