Last week in “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing” I talked about the silver lining in unpopular emotional states. Today I’m doing just the opposite.
What kind of a Gloomy Gus would tell people to be suspicious of good feelings? Positive emotional states give us the gumption to change, grow, and achieve, and cultivating them is essential to a well-lived life. But there are risks involved in chasing down those good vibrations and holding them hostage. Experiencing positive emotional states in a conscious way can get you around a heap of pain. Here are just a few examples.
Eros, to which more pop songs and films are devoted than any other form of love, does, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, contain a generous dollop of selfishness. It tends to blind us to obligations to all but the love relationship. It demands single-minded devotion from our partners. Falling in love often throws people off-balance to the point where they forget who they are. The tragedies that come in the wake of such wrongheaded romanticism are what keeps marriage counsellors and divorce lawyers in gravy.
The mindful lover won’t stop loving others and certainly won’t abandon the quest to know themselves and self-actualise. They’ll respect and attend to the partner but resist the partner’s efforts to make them feel ashamed for making time for activities outside the relationship. The mindful lover truly lives in love, respecting and honouring the partner as a precious and separate individual, while continuing to love and respect themselves.
Happiness—that is, a deep, abiding sense of contentment and gratitude—is less a fleeting emotion than a life choice. As author Stratis Myrivilis wrote in the novel Life in the Tomb, “One must choose happiness.” Happiness is something to be chosen, not something to be given or taken. When you start to think you’re entitled to happiness or you become ready to compromise your values for it, you’ve lost your way; happiness will escape you like the proverbial wayward girl who flees those who pursue her and pursues those who flee her.
Want to choose happiness? Seek out and welcome those thoughts and experiences that bring you joy while acknowledging the character-building value of unavoidable conditions like sadness, stress, boredom, and dissatisfaction.
Sure, self-confidence helps us reach for the stars, and that’s a good thing, right? Well, if you’ve ever seen the Dunning-Kruger effect in action you’ll know that self-confidence ain’t all it’s cracked up to be; especially when it allows us to make fools of ourselves. Ironically, it’s usually when we think we know it all that we’re missing the very information that could help us succeed. Better to temper your self-image with a touch of realism while developing a sense of real self-worth. The self-confidence you gain will have more to do with your true value and less to do with your ego.
Fun, laughs, kicks, letting go, and blowing off steam are among the great pleasures of life.
They also have limits. Haven’t you ever heard someone say, “Sing before breakfast, you’ll cry before supper”? How many times do wild parties end in chaos, destruction, and ambulance rides? How often do bouts of uncontrollable laughter result in hurt feelings and misunderstandings? How often does “fun” leave you feeling emotionally exhausted?
Mindful amusement knows when to put the brakes on. It sees when too much joking could hurt someone, when letting loose might be getting dangerous, or when we simply need to stop having fun and get on with the business of living.
The word “comfort” conjures up images of easy chairs, fuzzy slippers, and cookies still warm from the oven, but too much time lounging around munching on cookies might not be all that good for us.
Comfort should be a reward for hard work and a means of restoring a tired brain and body—not an end in itself, and certainly not pursued as a lifestyle. Being healthy and sharp requires regular activity, healthy eating, and pushing ourselves to our limits, none of which feels all that comfortable.
There’s also a political downside to too much comfort. History shows that in political contexts it’s often those living in the most comfort who create the biggest impediments to progress, for example the obstinacy of the 19th century British House of Lords in delaying bills meant to improve the lot of England’s farmers and workers.
By all means, enjoy your comfort, guilt-free. Just don’t get too attached to it.
This is a hard one to knock. Enthusiasm aids learning, promotes achievement, and grants us joy in work and play. What’s not to love? For one thing, enthusiasm can be as blinding as romantic love, and just as obsessive.
I have a friend whose dream it was to become a doctor. She was driven daily by the enthusiasm behind her dream. I could see she hated studying science and had an aversion to certain medical conditions, but it took a random invitation from a law school to make her stop and ask herself if she could really be happy as a doctor. She’s now a successful attorney, and she still wonders out loud why she’d ever dreamed of entering medicine.
Life changes. We change. Life changes us. Stopping from time to time to ask yourself if this is still what you want should be a regular part of the journey toward your dream. Being true to yourself demands it.