BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 1, 2016 (edited March 6, 2022)
A life always chasing pleasure is limiting. Pleasure arrives, arouses and then is gone. A rich, meaningful life relishes all the wondrous emotions.
Sometimes I feel like I’m on top of the world; a ray of sunshine warming my soul. These feel-good moments come, stay for a moment and then go. I appreciate these moments—whether brief or enduring. The organism responds favorably to positive experience; every cell smiles.
A rich, rewarding life must includes feel-good moments. Perhaps the good feelings that accompany success is what we seek, not the actual success. Yet feeling good shouldn’t be the goal. Emotions push us to chase pleasure. But good and bad feelings don’t always accurately guide. Sometimes choices reward with momentary satisfaction but create long-term regret.
Immediate pleasure can be quite painful.
A well-lived life (doing the right things) creates positive feelings reduces anxiety and creates connections but still permits sadness, fear, and anger. Richness of experience consists of pleasure and discomfort. Too much pleasure and we no longer glory in feeling good—we expect it. We feel emotions most poignantly with movement from one feeling state to another. The feeling then is dependent upon multiple factors, including current moods, experience, and interpretations. The moving criteria for feeling create inconsistency in feeling; the variableness lacks exactness for life direction. An impulse may be misguided. A deeper investigation is needed.
We must be sensitive to the proclivities of our emotions—improper reactions, sensitivities, and biases.
Self-knowledge provides a foundation to evaluate emotional swings—hopes, dreams, pleasures, long-term aspirations, frustrations, and regrets. Keeping in contact with our evolving-self, exposes what we value and what we fear. When we act in-line with values, our lives become rich and meaningful. We experience vitality transcending mere survival.
Value motivated action may require courage. Values may insist acting outside of norms, producing anxiety by demanding movement in new directions. directions. But exploration beyond the known expands experience—great achievement demands crossing into foreign territories.
"When we act in-line with values, our lives become rich and meaningful. We experience vitality transcending mere survival."
Many choose to escape discomfort; instead of moving forward, they seek distractions, avoiding the difficult by following the tugging of emotions (fear). Amusements surround, tempting action to titillate senses. Producing pleasure is a multi-billion-dollar industry, providing entertainment with little concern for the future. A sitcom, a nice glass of wine, or a sporting event invigorates the wearied mind. But when over-indulged can ruin. Amusements provide distraction—sometimes necessary.
While we need rest to rejuvenate, avoiding problems often magnifies the mess. A six-pack of beer and a football game momentarily distracts attention from an angry wife; but the distraction further deteriorates the relationship. Damning addictions may become automatic responses to soothe disruptive emotions.
Appropriately processing discomforts widens perspectives and deepens experience. Experienced emotion must be measured against the whole. How does the emotion fit into the overall plan? If we simply avoid discomfort, acting in ways that fail to solve long-term problems, we create more of the feelings we desperately desire to avoid. Temporarily disengaging from emotions by distraction tolerates the miss-matches existing in our life—the disrupting events. The conflicts continually resurface, intruding on our well-being. If we want resolution, we must effectively address the contentious clashes with corrective action (doing the right things).
When emotions overwhelm, we become slaves to reactive tendencies—whether these are escapes or violent attacks, they fail to resolve the underlying problem. We must confront the emotional demons first, so we can make the necessary behavioral changes. Ignoring the emotions doesn’t work; they signal that something is wrong and needs attention.
Key components of successful emotion processing
These skills break powerful emotions into bite-sized chunks that we can process. If surprised and overwhelmed, nasty distractions often become the only viable solutions. A foundation of emotional-soothing skills (see Three Techniques) keeps the demons more manageable. We harness the emotions and then move forward doing the right things to lessen the reoccurring spikes of emotion. The right things balance budgets, improve relationships, nurture health, and strengthen communities. And in turn lesson the drama in our lives, reducing anxiety and creating room for greater productivity.
Getting started is challenging. We are unsure where to begin, searching for the first secure foothold to start the arduous climb. We must start somewhere. This is the unknown territory. We may need professional or pharmaceutical assistance. Any step in the positive direction, no matter how trivial, is growth. Slowly the changes accumulate, opportunities increase, relationships improve, and secure-bases materialize. This is the path. This is the demands of a rich and flourishing life.
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