The Benefit of Negative Feelings

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. 

The Benefit of Negative Feelings

Taking Back Money & Status

I recently read a great article (originally printed in Aeon, reprinted on the BBC website) about the shift from tangible status symbols such as a Louis Vuitton handbag to intangible symbols like education and healthcare.

Although the article was about the shift in the way the 1% flaunts their wealth and it’s consequences, a few points really struck me as a minimalist.  (Note, all values are US specific)

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 An 80% increase in tuition fares is insane, there is no way an average family would be able to plan for this kind of hike. Meanwhile the 1% are spending less on material goods, and more on education, retirement and healthcare. Intangible goods that not only increase their quality of life but also leave benefits for the next generation, further widening the wealth gap (I want to note here that as a whole I don’t this this is done with bad intent, the problem is the system, not the people in it). So why aren’t the lower to middle classes following 1%’s example? Because these basic needs are increasingly unattainable.

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Should I sacrifice my quality of life now in order to save enough to be able to start a masters course when I am 50? Or should I work three jobs and go ten’s of thousands of dollars in debt? No amount of eschewing avocado toast is going to cover those costs. For many people, the cost of higher education, healthcare and retirement is simply an impossible number.

So what do the lower and middle classes have left? Well let’s look at that 6%. The luxury goods unavailable to their parents generation are suddenly mass produced and just a click away. The natural human desire to show status can be bought at a Black Friday sale or Amazon lightening discount for just $99.99. After all, even if I lived in a shared apartment and ate a monk’s diet of beans and rice I still wouldn’t be able to afford university, so why not? Why not get this thing that makes me feel good about myself?

Here is where minimalism comes in. Minimalism isn’t going to lower your study, healthcare or retirement fees, but it can help you make the best of your situation. It can remove that association between ‘luxury’ goods and ‘feeling good about myself’ and help you channel the available funds you have (no matter how modest they are) into something that will provide you with more satisfaction and happiness.

You might never get the home of your dreams, but minimalism can remove some of the pain of ‘want’, and help you save for the holiday of your dreams. Maybe a tiny house isn’t your first choice, but compared to the constant stress of making your inflated mortgage/rent payment it will bring you a lot more happiness. Maybe you have to live in shared accommodation, minimalism can help you take control of whatever mental and physical space you have, giving you more peace of mind until you can change your situation (I speak very much from personal experience on this one).

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It is hard to explain being free from ‘want’ to a non-minimalist, but it really is like a weight lifted from your shoulders. Your self confidence and self worth increases once it is separated from the material world. Your mind is calmer.

Many ‘rich’ countries require structural change to in order for their citizens to thrive, and this is a fight that I wholeheartedly support being a part of. But on the smaller scale every person can increase their own happiness in a way that will be relevant and useful regardless of their environment or economic situation.

 

 

Taking Back Money & Status

Minimizing Drama

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By far, the best thing I have minimized in my life is how I consume news.

It took some time to break the addiction but I no longer visit crappy news sites – I unfollow consistently negative people on social media and I have trained friends and family around me not to share the latest Trump blunder.

This does not mean I am ignoring the problems. 

I realized, during all the talk of fake news and biased reporting that the best way to get good news is to pay for it. News sites that rely on clicks and shares will always lean toward the dramatic. The attention grabbing. The horrifying. A freak show of modern life.

I live a simply. I gave up a higher paying job for more time and a more satisfying life and I have no regrets, but it does mean I can’t fork out $50 a month on various news outlets, so I found a balance that works for me.

Paid Sources:

National Geographic 3.25 EUR per month. The Economist Espresso Edition (app) 3.29 EUR a month (I would love the full subscription, but it’s out of my price range. Espresso give me the 6 top stories of the day which I find is still pretty good).

Free Sources: 

BBC – this is mostly good but I always approach it with caution. This morning for example I got a popup saying that some celebrity’s baby was born, and had to remove the ‘Breaking News’ notifications. The Intercept and Podcasts.

This gives me a total of 6.54 EUR a month that I am spending on news, and I hope to be able to spend more in the future with a full Economist subscription as well as Delayed Gratification which practices slow journalism.

By minimizing my feed I get all the information I need, all the information I can act on, without the utterly useless shouting match between left and right, conservative and liberal, blue dress or white dress people clogging up my mental space.

While there may be a sick satisfaction in laughing at the failings of a politician or public figure you dislike, it does not create change and it does not benefit your mental well-being.

One of the most useful things I ever did was a workshop offered by Human Rights Watch on how to verify information. It changed the way I read news, and I think it’s helped me sniff out the bullshit a lot faster so that I don’t waste my time and energy on bad reporting. I strongly encourage people to find a similar workshop or check out one of the many free MOOC’s online.

If you feel weighed down or overwhelmed by the news, try detoxing your news consumption. Talk to friends and family and tell them that although they might find Cofeve funny, the constant political chatter is making you unhappy.

You can be an active and engaged community member without filling your feed and your life with negativity. I still took part in the Woman’s March, March for Science and donate to my favorite charities without spending much mental energy on politicians I dislike. I am still up to date on world events without meme’s crowding my instagram or twitter accounts.

And most importantly, in my day to day life, I am happy.

 

 

Minimizing Drama