Photo by Cris Trung on Unsplash

Hello my dear happiness nerds, welcome back!

Those who have known me for a long time likely will be surprised about what they are going to read in this post. They know me as a rational person, a scientist and philosopher, somebody who tends to think too much. Thomas, The Happiness Nerd, would surely argue that either thought, creativity, or attention is the currency of life. Nope, sorry. I think feelings are. Let me tell you why.

Everything we want is feel a certain way

Take any goal. If you ask long enough why you have that goal you will arrive at a desired feeling. I guarantee it.

  • You want to get with that crush of yours? This one’s easy and obvious: You probably want to love and feel loved, intimate, connected, valuable, secure, and so on.
  • You want that awesome job or sometimes just any job at all? You probably want to enjoy your work, feel good about belonging to a certain group of people, or stop worrying about money (i.e., feel relieved and relaxed).
  • You need to buy trash bags (so you want that ticked off your to-do list)? You probably want to feel comfortable in a clean house, feel carefree by ticking off all of your to-dos (which unfortunately will never happen as long as you have such a list), or simply don’t want to feel like a failure who can’t even keep their home in order.

It works even for the things that you feel like you don’t actually want but must or should: Here, you probably want to avoid punishment, because it feels unpleasant, or you want to avoid your inner critic giving you a beating, again, because feelings. I could go on, but the point is simple: Without desired feelings, goals are just meaningless thoughts or memories. Something one could do but would feel pointless. Or something one wanted to do at some point but no longer does. There’s even basic psychological research on this. But there’s also a much simpler, theoretical argument to be made: If striving for or achieving anything wouldn’t make you feel a certain way, what would even be the point?

Feelings let us know who we are

…if we listen. So, listen! This is the flipside of the point above: If feelings underlie everything we want, then our feelings are a surefire way to explore what we really want and who we really are.

  • You got angry? Then either someone or something stood in the way towards your goals or violated your values and you felt inclined to do something about it. You see, anger mobilizes us to remove obstacles towards what is important to us. If it weren’t important to us, we wouldn’t care.
  • You got sad? Then you probably lost something dear to you. Or, again, someone or something stood in the way towards your goals or violated your values, but you didn’t feel like you could do anything about it.
  • You got excited? Then something happened (with or without the help of your actions) that aligned with your goals or values. It might benefit you or others or just be something that you find good in principle. Again, if that positive thing weren’t important to you, you wouldn’t be excited that it happened.

We could do this with other feelings as well: Surprise, disgust, jealousy, relaxation, etc. If you’re keen to learn more, then this is important to you 😉 Just kidding—well kind of. But if you’re keen to learn more, you can check out any book or lexicon entry on feelings in general, the functions of specific emotions, or the field of emotional psychology.

Feelings are why ethics matter

Think about it: If a being cannot suffer (i.e., have unpleasant feelings), one doesn’t need ethics for that kind of being. For example, we don’t have ethics for stones. We can just take them, throw them, break them, and so on. If we were to think, as some people and cultures do, that stones are inhabited by spirits or ghosts (which have feelings), then we would probably have ethics for stones (like those cultures often do). If a sacred spirit were to live in a stone, it would feel wrong to take it, throw it, or break it. Just like most people would be disgusted by the idea of just taking, throwing or breaking a human (or even “just” a cat, dog, or cow). This begs the question: Which beings can suffer? And to what extent? And how would we know? These are really important questions, but would take a book or ten to examine appropriately. My rule of thumb is: Better assume that a living being can suffer and treat it with kindness. If you’re wrong, you were kind “too often”, which is probably a good thing for you and the world. In contrast, if you assume that a living being cannot suffer but it can, you were careless or cruel too often (without quotation marks), which in my book are definitely a bad thing for you and the world.

Bottom line

These are just three of the many reasons, why I would say that feelings are the currency of life. Your gains are expressed in feelings and your losses are expressed in feelings. Thoughts, creativity, and attention are immensely important in their own rights, but feelings take the cake in my opinion. And I didn’t even talk about that new theory that assumes that the ability to guide one’s feelings might be at the core of mental health. Maybe another day. For today, I want you to take away three things:

  • Reflect upon your goals and priorities: Do they bring you excitement, joy, and love or do they only protect you from sadness, fear, and anger? Maybe you’ll be happier if you live just a little bit braver (but don’t overdo it either—there is a “too much” of most good things).
  • Know yourself by listening to your feelings. They can tell you more about what’s important to you and how you function than you could dream to know. Be mindful and ask yourself several times throughout the day: How am I feeling right now? Why is that?
  • Better assume that the living beings around you can suffer and treat them with kindness. It will definitely enrich your life, very likely enrich theirs, too, and thereby make the world a better place.

With much love

Thomas

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26 thoughts on “The Currency of Life

  1. Well written and insightful. As one who writes about “Mindfulness” and “Self-Awareness” I often refer to feelings as our compass. Similar to the way you write about them being our currency. I like that! Keep spreading the LIGHT my brother!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really good metaphor as well, I like it! I’ll use in my work with clients, if that’s ok with you? Thanks, please keep up the good and insightful work, too! 🙂

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      1. I was trying to learn a little bit about you on your website but I couldn’t find out what it is you do. You can learn a little bit more about me by visiting my website http://www.shiftethos.com

        My profession is in medical device sales. I fell very expensive lasers two plastic surgeons, dermatologist, and medical spas. But outside of that, I too, do a lot of counseling. I have tried to figure out a way to transition from what I am currently doing and moving into counseling, or even public speaking. I have even thought about networking with other people to create an entire organization of people dedicated to raising the consciousness of the planet which is so desperately needing it. Would love to connect with you sometime, Thomas.

        If you visit my website, you can even email me at david@shiftehtos.com

        Perhaps someday, we could even talk. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for your interest! 😃 You can read about me on the “About This Project“ page. I’m a motivational psychologist and soon a psychotherapist in training. I’m happy to hear that you want to go into counselling as well! And love the idea of raising consciousness! Unfortunately, I’m really swamped this year. But let’s stay in touch, I got your contact and you got mine. Hope to read you again, soon! 🙏

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  2. Your articles are always a treat! I’ve been thinking a lot about this as well, I think like is divided into an a survival mode (like Bear Grylls the “Island” show), society mode, and purpose mode. You seem to be a “purpose mode” person or in a “purpose mode” phase, yet by understanding the other modes of life, I think it gives a better understanding about why people do so much of what they do. Why would someone kill or hurt, that’s beneficial and natural when in survival mode in certain environments. I do agree with your article, but I noticed there are many times when feelings don’t drive me (waking up to care for the kids, it doesn’t feel good actually – for me), feelings are a huge part of life and very high thinking, but when we ascribe meaning we can push past feelings for both good or evil purposes. The graphic on the top of the article explains it better than my words here (I think): https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/bubblegummonkey.com/3695 🕊️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sakura, nice to read from you again 😊 Hmm, really interesting distinction! Where did you read about it – or did you come up with it yourself? Unfortunately, your link doesn’t work 🙁 It’s true that I’m (often) in purpose mode 😁 I’d argue though that feelings are behind every goal – no matter in which mode one is. Just keep asking why you want to do anything, like caring for your children in the early morning, and some positive or negative feeling that you want to attain or avoid will come up. So, please send me your link again and hope to read you again soon 😊

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        1. I’d say that all those things don’t matter if feelings don’t exist. I elaborated this for the example of a moral code under the third header in the post. I’m curious in your take 😃

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, feelings change and are unreliable. some things like long-term commitments have to depend on something else than feelings to survive, raise kids, keep a family together Feelings are a valuable part of our life, but are very changeable in the short term–in my case, being a diabetic, they are as much a symptom of my blood sugar levels as anything else. Diabetics and other people have been fooled as to the true nature of reality…by their feelings!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Good point, I agree that we need more than feelings to be successful and live a good life. I also agree that feelings can change quickly and partly depend on our biology. My point though is that nothing matters if we don’t have feelings. They are the currency that life pays us with. Even knowing the true nature of reality is only worthwhile because of the way it can help make us feel. Bold claim, I know, but it seems right to me 🤓

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Haha, I can’t seem to bring my point across, but that’s ok. Maybe one last try, because I agree with your example: I don’t think momentary feelings should rule our judgement. But I would argue that one wouldn’t want to stupidly impregnate one’s girlfriend because of the unpleasant feelings the negative repercussions would lead to. Am I making any sense?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. No…because what I said…was that that young couple would be mislead if they only considered their positive raging hormones and didn’t consider other factors in the decision, both positive and negative. We need both sides of our brain to function…or start listening to your girlfriend/wife (who function largely from the opposite side of the brain as men so) got my point?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Yeay, I think I got it and I agree. And I think we’re talking past each other a bit 😃 Perhaps that’s the curse of a written discussion. In any case, it’s always a pleasure exchanging thoughts with you! 😊

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