BY: Troy Murphy | January 2016
Sometimes emotions mislead, pushing us to act immediately at the expense of a richer future.
The volume of conflicting advice for living healthy are overwhelming. Any guru always faces antagonists arguing a different view. The well-being field is flooded. The mass of information isn’t bad if we skeptically examine for reliability; unfortunately, often it’s unclear. After spending several decades in the fitness industry, I discovered the motivation to production of most fitness products isn't fitness but sales. The happiness market is no different. People don’t buy books, rush to motivational conferences, or spend precious resources unless the product excites emotions. The producers, therefore, seek popularity instead of effectiveness.
Over the last century, happiness has become the goal, shifting from more traditional ethical living to "just make me happy." Previously, happiness was a beneficial side consequence of living a constructive life. We consume products because they promise happiness, not because of underlying goodness—to self or others. Suppliers fill the shelves, aisles and web pages with products that promise happiness. Instead of spending money conducting experiments for effectiveness, producers channel money to marketing determining profitability, "Will consumers spend money, believing this product will make them happy?"
Often life benefiting behaviors take time to marinate before blooming into greater well-being. The patient follower must courageously cling to wisdom while persisting with actions before the blessings are received. We are easily distracted, misled by promises of ease.
In our demand for independence, confused by the mass of data and deceptive authority, we rely on feelings to guide. But emotions have pitfalls. they are not the perfect guiding intuitions that many suggest. Many actions produce pleasant sensations in the present but create long-term damage, while some other actions cause discomfort in the present but bless with long-term benefits.
Misinterpreted meanings extracted from these positive and negative feelings direct us down erroneous paths. We desire a flawless guidance system and marketers willing take advantage of this. Opportunistic well-being specialist sell philosophies to fit our desires that tantalize our wants while failing to provide for needs. The consumers readily gobble up the hollow promises that demand minor mental or behavioral work; 19.99 + shipping and handling and your life will be better.
"Often life benefiting behaviors take time to marinate before blooming into greater well-being. The patient follower must courageously cling to wisdom while persisting with actions before the blessings are received.."
Changing behavioral trajectories requires effort (a Lot of it); we must face the stubbornness of engrained habits and protective thinking. Adjusting course demands persistently forcing different actions that oppose our natural inclinations. This doesn’t feel good, demanding additional mental effort. We must also challenge the justifying thoughts, suggesting all is well. This process doesn’t feel good; resisting chemical dependencies doesn’t feel good; listening to corrective advice doesn’t feel good; sacrificing the present for better futures doesn’t feel good—at least at first. But eventually, as new behaviors prove their worth and we recognize the benefits of those behaviors the work loses its laborious nature and we feel more vigorous in the implementation, eventually making new habits . Soon the forced action produces feelings of pleasantness.
We shouldn’t ignore feelings that push for one action over another. Feelings offer insights into the connections between past and present. We don’t necessarily need an in-depth Freudian examination but by bringing consciousness to the associations causing emotional upheavals, we can examine the faulty internal guidance. Once we recognize the obnoxious gathering of mounting feelings, we can search for meaning (both internal and external), seeking connections between the present trigger and the meaningful past giving life to that trigger; but these searches must be limited only when they prove helpful. Sometimes the emotional markers from the past are hidden; fruitless searches frustrate, and create vulnerability to false conclusions. In these cases, answers remain a mystery and we must accept the disruptions. Our challenge remains to act differently than internal powers dictate, choosing more constructive paths—conduct with purposeful ends.
We want to feel good—the pleasure principle. Our emotions are an ancient guiding system that survived because it benefits the organism. The world has rapidly changed—biological evolution can’t keep pace with social evolution. We exist in a complex world that outpaces our biological guiding systems. Our cognitive apparatus is an inadequate guide to expertly navigate the complexities. This is where consciousness steps in. We absorb learning from surroundings, gathering skills and knowledge to competitively survive. But we must reach beyond survival, also developing habits and behaviors that consider the future; not simply pleasure in the moment. Increasing complexity of industrial and digital revolutions doesn’t render emotions obsolete but does, however, place increasing demand on a more cognitive approach.
We must be skeptical of new ideas; slow to abandon proven behaviors for attractive shortcuts. Look a little deeper. Look for evidence. Ask a few questions. Are there confirming studies? Who conducted the studies? Where did the idea come from? Is the idea all-encompassing ignoring complexity? Slowing down to investigate, asking a few questions, may save us from many unneeded hurts. We are human; we occasionally will be duped. Upon first contact, we may like an idea because it sounds right (it feels good), but with further examination and a few probing questions, we often discover the error, avoid wasted time and then pursue a more productive course.