Life: Good and Bad
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2016 (edited 2018)
Our lives have pleasant and unpleasant experiences. It is the nature of living, whether we love reality or not, it remains as it is.
Wrapped in feelings, thoughts and connections, is the experience of living—tangible and fragile. Sometimes crushed by the magnitude of life, permeating our protective shields; other times buoyantly lifted by unexpected warmth and beauty.
A popular brand of pop-psychology condemns normal emotions, labeling some feelings as bad, attacking juggernauts of felt experience such as sadness, guilt, and anger (as well as any other displeasing feelings). With an attractive theory, they re-write the biology of life. Now, when inflicted with sorrow, we feel impelled to apologize for experiencing a lower-class emotion, belonging to the weak; because, of course, we are choosing to be sorrowful.
We feel experience. The feelings drive us towards rewards and scurrying away from threats evoking disgust and fear. The emotions are biological but the events triggering the emotions are learned. We learn through interaction—both directly and vicariously. Emotions tag experience with levels of importance; high emotional events record in detail, occasionally including uninvolved but surrounding people and things. We derive security from prediction; artfully avoiding disaster and obtaining pleasure is skilled living. But the triggers, learned from the past, can misguide current responses. We unwittingly feel something is great, close our eyes and robotically follow. We dismiss the obvious and overlook the salient.
We need an occasional gut check.
Our bodies will always react to external stimuli, reminding of emotional connections to past rewards or hurts. Emotions are essential whether displeasing or delicious. They don’t necessarily properly guide the present but do expose personal connections and beliefs to the present experience. Some habitually ignore reactionary feelings. Others blindly chase pleasure dismissing wisdom taught by discomfort. Whether we consciously recognize the under-current of emotion driving action or not, the emotion still exists, festering beneath the surface and eventually finding expression in more painful ways.
" The emotions are biological but the events triggering the emotions are learned. "
Our sadness expresses loss, teaching wisdom to warmly enjoy precious impermanent gifts. Our guilt teaches conflict between values and action, teaching prudence in behaviors. Our anger thrives at the injustices of the world, driving protective responses. Each emotion designed for life in a dynamic world of others. Each emotion bundled with blessings and curses. The trigger may be falsely identified; or the responsive action may be ineffective and destructive. With help, we slowly integrate experience into living, smoothing the errors, improving responses, and growing a flourishing life.
If your goal is to simply feel good, then yes, attack the invading emotions, distract, avoid and escape the experiences of living. But if you want more, you value deeper experiences and connection some discomforts are necessary. Choose to feel life—joys and sorrows—and then transcend the impulsive damaging reactions by choosing a wiser path that blesses futures expand your humanity.