As I’ve built my business over the past ten months, my mood towards these endeavors has run the gamut from fear and loathing to disbelief to excitement, pride, and joy. These dramatic contrasts happen over days, hours, or even minutes. It feels insane – how can thoughts and feelings about something completely oppose each other so quickly? How can I rely on what I feel if it changes all the time?
“Don’t ignore your feelings” is good advice. Notice them, for your feelings can indicate where you need to take action to live a life that aligns with your values and goals. But be skeptical of them, too. Feelings are so diverse that they can’t all mean something, not in the sense that they are all a roadmap for how to live.
I recently read How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton. Though the title is ambiguous, the book is excellent, covering many topics related to sexuality and relationships. The following passages stood out:
“Such a re-evaluation [of the institution of romantic marriage] may be prompted by an awareness of how chaotic and misleading our feelings can be. We may, for example, see an attractive face at a street crossing and want to turn our life upside down as a result. When a tempting person with whom we have been having an erotic exchange in an internet chat room suggests a meeting at an airport hotel, we may be tempted to blow up our life in favour of a few hours’ pleasure. There are times when we feel sufficiently angry with our spouse that we would be happy to see him or her knocked down by a car; but ten minutes later, we may be reminded that we would die rather than go on alone. During the longueurs of weekends, we may be desperate for our children to grow up, lose their interest in trampolining and leave us alone for ever so that we can read a magazine for once, and enjoy a tidy living room – and then a day later, at the office, we may want to howl with grief because a meeting looks like it’s going to overrun and we realize we’ll miss out on putting them to bed.
The defenders of feeling-based marriage venerate emotions for their sincerity and authenticity, but they are able to do so only because they avoid looking too closely at what actually floats through most people’s emotional kaleidoscopes in any given period: all the contradictory, sentimental and hormonal forces that pull us in a hundred often crazed and inconclusive directions. To honor every one of our emotions would be to annul any chance of leading a coherent life. We could not be fulfilled if we weren’t inauthentic some of the time, perhaps even a lot of it – inauthentic, that is, in relation to such things as our passing desires to throttle our children, poison our spouse or end our marriage over a dispute about changing a light bulb.
Romanticism highlighted the perils of inauthenticity, but we will face no fewer dangers if we attempt always to bring our outer life into line with our inner one. It is giving our feelings too great a weight to want them to be lodestars by which the major projects of our lives may be guided. We are chaotic chemical propositions, in dire need of basic principles that we can adhere to during our brief rational spells. We should feel grateful for, and protected by, the knowledge that our external circumstances are often out of line with what we feel; it is a sign that are probably on the right course.”*
These examples of how irrational and fleeting feelings can be illustrates what I sometimes forget to remember: feelings are something, but they are not everything. You don’t have to do anything based on them, and you may want to ignore them sometimes.
*I neglected to note the page numbers. Apologies to Alain de Botton!
(image taken by Mat McIntyre.)