Feel Better Now; Pay Later
BY T. Franklin Murphy | May 2014 (edited 2017)
Cheating Futures by Indulging in the Present
Shortcuts to happiness may escape pain; but the temporary relief often has a high cost of long-term trouble.
We delve into the complexity of firing neurons through mindful attention, peering into the soul, gaining insights, and uncovering hidden motivations. These insights often uncover errors of thought. With guidance, we can properly re-direct attention to behaviors interfering with long-term intentions. We experience a wide spectrum of emotions, giving richness to life. The feeling of emotion may excite or depress. Our body reacts to experience with sorrow, anger, guilt, shame, disgust, joy and excitement. The emotional reaction activates both external responses and internal responses. The emotion shows on our face as muscles tighten and words change tones. We become a billboard to the activities occurring beneath our skulls, signaling to the world the depths of our internal life.
The flow of emotion doesn’t stop at our borders but flows outward to others who perceive our emotion, internalize the communication and react. The cycle has just begun; we in turn see their reaction, internalize their response and emotionally react to their reaction. Anxieties from work flow into the house, frustrations from home spill over into work.
The chain of reaction of emotion ripples across time and geography. In personal relationships, we express emotions with words and actions, our partner soaks in the energy and responds; and we respond to their response. Our immaturity or skill of the involved players determine whether the energy is calmed or magnified as it ripples back and forth. Our responses may benefit or damage long-term purposes. Just as a football player is tossed from a game for throwing a punch—destructive to his intention to win, we may react violently to an emotion, destroying the closeness we desire. The next exchange remembers the hurtfulness of past exchanges.
Because some emotions are discomforting, our bodies demand a response to balance the system and return to comfortable homeostasis. The emotions signal the need for action to reestablish balance. When we hurt, we seek causes and answers. We pull our hand from the fire because it hurts. We run from a threat to eliminate the fear. Nature programmed the body to reduce discomfort by addressing the trigger. Unfortunately, at times, we resolve emotions in non-productive ways. Unpaid bills get shoved into a dark drawer—out of sight, out of mind. We project causes on the wrong target, blaming others when we personal action may be culprit. Sometimes we utilize destructive distractions such as opening another bottle of that cheap wine gifted from aunt Elda just to forget the approaching calamity.
We can find relief without attending to the real problem. Sometimes we need a mental break, recharging depleted strength; there is nothing amiss here. But when escapes are used to excess, the problems never get addressed, remaining alive, haunting our futures. The same problems keep surfacing, disrupting emotions, and our bodies keep sending the unheeded message to change.
Healthy approaches eventually address the core problem. We need to devise a plan to pay those bills; sit down with our partner and have the difficult discussion; go to the doctor to get the nagging pain evaluated. To resolve the underlying issue, we must face the discomfort.
Many discomforts are a consequence of choice; other hurts randomly strike—just bad luck. Life may be unpredictable. We suffer, at times, from causes beyond our control. As we mindfully attend to the complexity, we become adept at recognizing different factions of experience. Recognizing the fine nuances connecting emotions, feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and subsequent consequences; our growing self-knowledge provides more accurate assessments. With a realistic view of cause and effect, we make better choices, notably improving life and limiting painful anxiety and unproductive demands to escape.
Without an accurate picture, reality is blunted, handicapping efficient responses that could resolve the repeating issues—so we seek escape. Often our examination stops once we identify a single outside trigger. We finger the rude driver as the culprit for our tantrum; but a closer examination would reveal our impatience and habitual tardiness, not the other driver, as the cause for the emotional outburst. By projecting cause, in this case on the other driver, we avoid responsibility, ignoring personal behaviors that need adjusting. Changes to our morning preparation that left more time to commute would start our day in the office with much less anxiety, leaving more energy for productivity. We claim victimhood, giving power to others that we should retain ourselves.
We naturally manipulate facts, assigning excuses, and justifying behaviors instead of recognizing our power to resolve many of the reoccurring issues haunting our lives. Until we correctly identify the underlying causes, we can’t make the necessary changes. Misguided, our long-term intentions will be missed, excusing failures to events beyond our control. Justification and avoidance do alleviate emotions; these mechanisms of thought work. But the shortcut to momentary peace will not get us to where we want to be—tomorrow.
Our minds are powerful agents. They work behind the curtains of awareness. We’ll never fully understand all the moving pieces of thought and motivation; but we can discover more; garnering new insights, allowing for more realistic labeling of cause. Through mindful insights, we identify personal flaws, temper our destructive behaviors, and develop healthy habits that create the peace and success we desire.