Why It Is Good To Feel Bad

When I notice how the general perception of negative emotions is, and how is being dealt with them, I cannot help but wonder. It seems, generally speaking that we do not want to feel bad, and therefore get away from any negativity as soon as possible. However, I believe that even though we like to feel good, it is good to feel bad.

I was inspired by reading Jordan Peterson’s second book Twelve Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos. In there, he argues to deal with whatever troubles you rather than running away from it. He puts this into perspective with archetypal stories that tale about heroes, fighting the devil, going through hell, and conquering the underworld. These themes occur in a variety of stories ranging from the Bible to Pinocchio. If you realize the metaphorical power of these stories you can learn from them and apply them. If you want to be your own hero and feel strong, content, and respected, you have to go through the underworld, conquer whatever is there, to live as a victor ever after. Or in short, deal with your issues and feel bad. Otherwise there is no way to feel good.

However extensive the ways to (not) deal with whatever troubles you, I believe there is an important thing to note beforehand. We all like to feel good. The crux is though that we perceive feeling good, as something good, and feeling bad, as something bad. The difference in value ascribed to certain emotions results in that we do not value a situation for what it is when we do not feel well.

Pain is bad, being angry is bad, crying is perceived as weakness, sadness is unlikable, complaining makes you a drag, and being hurt is an insult to humanity. This forces every single one of us into a straight jacket. Luckily though, there is comfort food, the doctor that tells you you don’t need to feel pain (and prescribes the drugs to resolve it), movies to make you laugh, computer games to forget your real existence, and your best friend telling you to take it easy.

There is always someone or something to help you steer clear of whatever produces

When it comes to emotions, balance is key

negative emotions. However, the labeling of emotions is unjust. Without feeling bad, there is no way to know what feeling good is. Therefore, it does not serve anyone to run away from that what makes you experience negative emotions. It complicates relationships, it clouds your judgement, and it diminishes learning opportunities.

Therefore, I think pain is good because your body is transmitting important information. Fighting with that person you profoundly dislike is good as well, because not every learning experience is accompanied by a serotonin rush. Then, feeling sad about the passing of a family member is good, because it forces you to process and reorganize your perception of reality without that person. And finally, being bullied is good, because there is plenty more in the world that doesn’t look like a bully, but can provoke similar feelings.

Emotions are productions of our subconscious and on first sight seem like the most truthful experiences at whatever moment they occur. Nevertheless, they often are the result of a formula involving a lot of factors, and their role depends on the context they occur in. Where it might first seem that you are responding to something that happens to you now, it might just be that it is the result of what happened two years ago. Emotions are important and useful, but do not necessarily need to dictate what you do next.

On top of this all, to stop valuing negative emotions as something bad will diminish their negative influence. If you have the courage to concentrate on your pain with a calm mind, instead of trying to distract yourself, you will notice its intensity going down. I tried this myself, to focus on my knee pain, instead of trying to forget it. It works phenomenally because I did what my body required me to do. To pay attention. At the same time it provoked a terminator-like-confidence inside of me, realizing that there is no need for emotional avoidance and how well I can function with pain. This holds true for other emotions as well, ignoring them will only make their voice stronger.

When I hold ground and question what arises inside of me, I could actually figure this out. If I try to put every negative emotion away though, stuff get’s messy. There is this voice in the back of my head calling for attention, at the same time I am trying to pretend everything is fine. If I would just take it on, or as Jordan Peterson says in his book: “stand up straight with your shoulders back”, it won’t be nice to begin with, but it will balance out after.

Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Jordan Peterson

Whatever I run away from, be it the police, learning for an exam, or negative emotions, its calling will only get stronger, because it needs attention. Now.

Further Reading:
  • 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by S. Hayes, K. Strosahl, K. Wilson.

How You Are Being Programmed Without Knowing It

If they fire together, they wire together.

Donald Hebb

This famous theory was articulated in the 1940’s by neuroscientist Donald Hebb. He described in his book The Organization of Behavior, how, when various neurons in our brain “fire” together, they “wire” together.

Easier said, this means that when you see your neighbor driving a new blue Volkswagen, the neurons in your brain remembering your neighbor will fire up, just like where the image of the car is represented. From that moment on, you will associate this blue Volkswagen with your neighbor.

Another example of this mechanism is when you smell a particular type of pie, that reminds you of your grandmother. Also, when you are playing soccer, and the ball crosses the white line on the side, you know you have to throw it in again. In both of the aforementioned situations there was a moment, where you learned that the ball crossing the white line means something, and that the smell of pie usually occurs at your grandmother’s. At these moments there were (at least) two neurons firing togetherand therefore wiring together.

However, the stimulation of the two variables needs to be repeated, for it to stick long term. Therefore, when two neurons fire together more often, they form a stronger association.

Now imagine this, you leave your house in the morning, headphones on and you are listening to the latest Coldplay album. You walk to the bus stop, where upon arrival you see a poster sliding by. You see a beautiful woman, looking happy, using a L’Oreal product, followed by a SUV in mountainous terrain.

SUV x mountainous terrain = sense of adventure

According to “if they fire together, they wire together”, in this story there are either new connections being made, or old ones being strengthened. Important to realize is, that it is not necessary to be consciously present for this mechanism to work. The biggest part of our consciousness, is subconscious. This means that if you do not try be aware of it, you will barely notice it.

Division of our mind

Nevertheless, when the L’Oreal commercial flashes by there is a connection being made between women, probably “prettiness”, and L’Oreal. Just like the Ford SUV, and the mountainous terrain provoke a feeling of adventure. From that moment on you will be more likely to associate these two things. This all depends however, on who you are. Man are more likely to be impressed by the Ford advertising, where women are more likely to be affected by the L’Oreal poster. On top of this all, the fact that you were listening to Coldplay at the time, might make it a trigger to think of these commercials or the feelings they provoked.

None of these associations are being formed because you were asking for it. Rather, they are a consequence of ingenuous marketing targeting your subconscious. This is all based on the idea that emotions drive behavior.

The idea of advertising is to provoke positive emotions in your subconscious.

Even though, marketing companies try to increase the likelihood you will buy their product, a lot of similar mechanisms are going on without their interference.

When we grow up for example, certain behavior is being encouraged, where other is being discouraged. Hitting your little brother will usually not be accepted, but brushing your teeth will. These cues from your parents provoke emotions. Hopefully, as a consequence you will associate positive emotions with brushing your teeth to feel the contrary when you hit your little brother.

At this age, an argument based on the long term consequences of not brushing your teeth will have little effect. Even though, in adulthood we might understand this better, still it is far from the deciding factor in our behavior.

As things go, most of these mechanisms are at work without our attention. Over the years you grew up, your parents might have only given you affection when you perform well in school, or your friends only thought you cool when you were hateful against the history teacher. Where nowadays, your boss only approves of you, when you care more about results than the happiness of your colleagues.

However, do you agree with this? Do you feel these emotions should be triggered in these situations? Is what you believe really what you value, or is it only because some ancient program is triggering “positive” emotions that otherwise have no real meaning. Once you realize this though, you have the opportunity to change.