The pursuit of happiness is important, but I feel that too many people make the mistake of trying to achieve happiness by ignoring anything that causes them even momentary discomfort. A spectrum of emotions is a blessing, not a curse. No one should live in fear, be paralyzed by guilt, or spend prolonged periods in pain – but in the right quantities, all of these feelings have an important role to play in our lives.
Pain (physical) is extremely unpleasant. It needs to be. Pain is our bodies most effective way of telling us that something is wrong. Leprosy (among other things) affects nerves making its host unable to feel pain. The loss of a leprosy sufferers extremities is due to repeated injury and infection that goes unnoticed, not because of the bacteria itself. People with congenital analgesia (a condition where you cannot feel pain), frequently die in childhood due to unnoticed illness and injuries. When a small child reaches out to touch a candle flame and burns their finger, they are learning a valuable lesson about fire that will protect them in the future. I am not suggesting anyone should be thankful for stubbing their toe, but recognizing the important part pain plays in our lives can help us to better enjoy the full human experience.
Guilt is a word that comes up way too often when I talk about minimalism, zero waste, veganism, and activism. People do not want to feel guilty. This is a tragedy because guilt is a guide to help us live kinder and more fulfilled lives. When I read about the Rana Plaza disaster and watched The True Cost I felt guilty. Of course, I had heard whispers about sweat shops and garment workers conditions but brushed them out of my mind because a Primark shopping spree was just so satisfying. Having been presented with new information I started researching ethical alternatives and spending my money better. I decided to join the debate about woman’s/worker rights and connect with other people on the same journey. Now when I go shopping, I spend money in a way that aligns with my beliefs, and that brings me more happiness than any fast fashion haul.
We have a name for people who are unable to feel guilt, it’s Sociopath. Don’t hide from guilt, confront it and use it to make positive changes in your life. There is no shame in learning something new and using that information to challenge old habits.
Note: This does not mean other people have the right to force their feelings of guilt on to you. Guilt is your personal moral compass, not something to be imposed.
Stress & Anxiety are tough to talk about because in our current culture most people have too much of both. Unlike pain, stress does not immediately tell you what is causing you harm. Often the thing that is causing you harm – like a difficult boss – is not as easy to avoid as a fire or thorny plant. Even though I have personally suffered a lot from stress, to the point that my hair was falling out, it did force me to make some major life changes that have brought me more happiness than I could have imagined possible. I’ll talk about my suggestion for addressing stress and anxiety in the next section.
Fear is a response that arises from the perception of danger. Like pain, it works to keep us safe, but like stress it has also become complicated in our modern culture. A fear of public speaking is not likely to protect us from physical harm. Advertisers and politicians can use fear to direct our behavior. Thankfully man (and woman) is ‘the rational being’ and I think we need to approach fear in the same way we approach anxiety. Look for the root cause, decide if that cause is justified or not, and act accordingly. Overcoming your fear of flying may open you up to new possibilities, but holding on to a fear of driving too fast might do you good too.
I overcame my status anxiety and depression through minimalism. I feel like minimalism can help a lot of people (and our planet) but my goal is not to tell people what to do, but rather to tell them what has worked for me so that they can try it out if it’s interesting to them.
I am not talking about Grief today, because I feel that that needs its own post.
Once again, all of these feelings need to be experienced in healthy doses. If you feel constantly anxious, or afraid, or guilty I strongly recommend seeking professional help. If that isn’t an option, start by talking to your parents, friends, or church. We live in a complicated world, and everyone needs help sometimes.