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.
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
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