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The Difference Between Being Good and Feeling Good

Ville Kokko

Posted on May 11, 2019 05:30

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Is anything really good, or are there only things that feel good?

I'm aware that a lot of what we feel has been programmed by evolution, or something else outside us, like culture.

So we might look at a certain kind of landscape and feel at home there. But all that really means is it was an environment that was good for our ancestors. Yet, it might feel right so that we become convinced that's where we should live. Aside from the fact that it's a good thing we get to feel good, isn't that impression kind of false? We're just being pushed around by instinct.

So is there a difference between things that just feel good and things that are actually good? I think some such difference might be illustrated by the following examples.

Suppose Bob is feeling unhappy about a lot of things: his job, while important to him, is boring; he's always tired, lacking energy to do things he wants; he's not getting along well with his wife; he's not spending enough time with his children.

In the first story, Bob realizes his real problem is that he's focusing too much on advancing his career and making more money than he even needs at his job. He decides to change to a lower-paid but less stressful and more interesting position within the organization.

Suppose Bob was right, and this does help with his problems. His work is no longer boring, he gets to sleep more and have more energy overall, he gets to spend more time with his wife and children.

The result? His solution feels good because things have improved in his life.

In the second story, Bob instead takes advice from a positive thinking coach who teaches him how to manipulate his mood so that he no longer feels bad about things. So his life goes on much as before, but every time he feels bad, he makes himself feel better. (I've read that this kind of practice has been a real problem with practitioners of NLP; fortunately, the most recent book on NLP I looked at was conscious of this and cautioned against it.)

Bob still doesn't have enough time for his family and ends up getting a divorce, but the technique he has learned is so powerful that he's even able to make himself not feel bad about that.

The result? Bob thinks things have improved in his life because he feels good.

This seems to illustrate the difference between what is really good and what only feels good. We may strongly feel that a thing is good – a love affair, a cultural practice, an addiction, membership in a cult – but if it's objectively not good for us in any other way, then there is a sense in which it's not really good.

We always have to choose some things to start with, basic values, to be able to determine what is good. Beyond that, however, it's how things affect the harmony of our lives that makes them good or not.

Ville Kokko

Posted on May 11, 2019 05:30

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It is not an action of support if it relies on them being showered with praise at the end of it, writes Clementine Ford.

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