Despite what advertisers may tell us, trying to avoid pain and seek pleasure all the time won't make you feel better.
Our present-day culture of well-being has made it the norm to incessantly search for pleasure. Many people in society have developed almost an obsession with avoiding pain at all costs and in all forms. It’s not just that we don’t want to suffer; we don’t want to do anything that costs us effort, sacrifice, or renunciation. We’ve been sold an idea of freedom that makes us think that choosing one thing limits you, because it means you renounce all other options.
In a world focused on only experiencing positive emotions, the cost of avoiding feeling pain or giving things up is very high, yet few people talk about it. In so many areas of life there’s this hidden message: “You have to feel good, no matter what.”
In the face of such a demand, without realizing it, we can end up blaming ourselves when we’re having a bad time. We might fall into self-criticism just because we’re going through a situation which is painful, difficult, or which simply requires effort.
But aren’t there things worthwhile not only “in spite of” the great sacrifices involved, but “because of” them?
One obvious example is fatherhood and motherhood. These are the foundation of our personal relationships in childhood, and are the basic source of love in society; at the same time, they come with great self-sacrifice.
There are many who could testify that being a father or mother is the best thing that has ever happened to them, which shows that suffering is compatible with, and even necessary for, loving more and better.
Managing emotions or simply passing through them?
Once we dispel the myth that “the best option is to avoid pain,” we can better understand the importance of “processing” negative emotions rather than simply fighting them to make them go away as soon as possible.
Sometimes people can develop addictions to moods—always in exchange for some hidden benefit. Thus, some become addicted to displaying constant sadness because they get the attention and compassion of those around them. Others, on the other hand, feel obliged always to be happy and funny because they need to receive the applause and laughing approval of those around them. Most often, however, we pass through moments of sadness, anger, or frustration, while we generally seek to be serene and joyful. But is this possible in complicated situations like this one, where we live in confinement because of a worldwide pandemic? Do we always have to be smiling, despite feeling anxiety, anguish or fear?
The answer is quite clear: no.
We have to recognize our right to feel badly at times—not because we enjoy suffering, but because we can learn much more when we allow ourselves to feel bored, sad, and even afraid.
Of course, this personal growth comes when we make an effort to understand why we are feeling that way. We need to acknowledge and accept our emotions in order to move through them and live once again with a sense of fulfillment.
What to do with emotions
It turns out that all of our feelings, whether negative or positive, can be powerful catalysts for good in our lives:
- Boredom leads to great ideas
- Sacrifice brings great benefits
- Sadness gives us great learning and empathy for others
- Righteous and well-channeled anger brings great motivation to do good
- Feelings of injustice motivate great initiatives and projects of social reconstruction
Those who achieve great things don’t try to feel good all the time or deny their negative feelings. They don’t ignore their discomfort, drowning it in distractions. Instead, they allowed themselves to acknowledge and accept their feelings, and accompanied those feelings with reflection and the desire to grow.
During these days of confinement, many of us are experiencing negative emotions. The best path is to recognize and accept them, so we can then move past them and channel them into growth.
This applies not only to our own bad feelings, but also those of the people who live with us. Respect a teenager who needs to isolate herself in her room. Understand your husband or wife might want to escape by watching TV for a while. At the same time, respect the reality that some days you’re in a worse mood than other days.
Let those around you know what you need, and allow yourself to feel that way. This experience of inner emotional freedom will help you get through difficult days and moments sooner than you think.