We all chase good feelings—I think that’s a given.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that, for a majority of humanity, this is what we make life all about. Even when we do things that are hard—things we find highly unpleasant—we do so with the self-assurance that some better feeling will be born of our efforts.
I love feeling good; I mean, who doesn’t? And I fancy myself as pretty “skilled” at it. I’m a relatively happy person, and when I feel joyful it’s a whole-body, sunshine-out-my-ears kind of joy. Even more, I love making other people feel good too and will expend a great deal of energy to support them in finding it.
No problem here; right?
Because eternal states of happiness are about as elusive and mythological as “The Last Unicorn,” despite there being exceptionally less skepticism about it. Frankly, I think more of us believe in the destination of “true happiness” than we do in Spirit or God.
The main problem with chasing happiness isn’t even the impossibility of it. Rather, it’s the effect it has on our emotions the rest of the time—when we’re not blissed out.
I call this problem “emotional whiplash” and it goes something like this:
We’re going about our day, doing all our normal things—drinking coffee, going to work, checking our Instagram, meeting up with friends in town—when something surprising and great happens. Maybe we ran into an old friend, or perhaps we got a positive report at work, or we watched an inspiring Ted Talk—whatever’s our own flavor of a joyful experience. And when it’s happening, we’re in it. We feel great. Totally in the moment and blissed out. I call this the “emotional high.”
What’s the natural response to this? We want the feeling to last as long as possible, of course! So we feed the good feels to keep ‘em going.
I’ve discovered a few go-to ways for extending my emotional highs—including calling a loved one to tell them all about the great things happening or listening to hyped-up music. I distinctly remember going out for a “joy ride” in my car listening to my “Good Vibes Only” playlist on many occasion, even when I had nowhere to go. Some people go out for drinks to celebrate. Others might go shopping. We all have ways to light the fire.
None of these things are bad, per-se, but it’s important to note when we’re intentionally revving ourselves up even more than an original, organic experience.
Sure, it’s natural to feel more expressive, energized, and open when we’re on an emotional high. But the thing is, no matter how beautiful, exciting, or rewarding life was in that moment, no good feeling lasts forever.
Enter: emotional whiplash.
Because, as the old adage says: “what goes up must come down.” In other words, we crash. And, often, we crash hard. It’s like simple physics really; the height of our emotional high is directly proportionate to the depth of our following emotional low.
When we go chasing all those blissful, good feelings, and then further fuel them with artificial energy sources, we’re actually setting up the conditions for the direct opposite feeling we’re trying to create. We ping-pong between intense joy and intense exhaustion, and we never know when the switch is going to flip.
Here are some traits to look for if we’re experiencing either end of the emotional teeter-totter:
Signs of an emotional low include:
>> Mental fog
>> Sudden sadness
>> Mild depression
Signs of an emotional high include:
>> High energy
>> Open-heartedness and connectivity
>> Bursts of creativity
>> Heightened awareness of the senses
>> Easy joy and love
While the bliss of an emotional high may seem worth it at the time, chasing good feelings puts us at the mercy of our emotions. It’s difficult to depend on ourselves to show up for ourselves on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis in this condition. We lose our sense of self-trust.
Luckily, not only is there another way, but there’s a clear path to take the reins back from our emotions without compromising our natural joy.
The goal is to move from emotional whiplash to emotional equanimity.
This doesn’t mean we flatten out our emotions altogether, there is a natural ebb and flow to our emotional selves as human beings. Rather, we learn to not chase the “good” ones while rejecting the “bad.” We do our best to notice and appreciate when pleasant experiences enter our lives, and offer just as much presence and love to ourselves in times of challenge or sadness.
In this way, we might be surprised to find that our natural happiness comes with a sense of deep appreciation and ease. We don’t have to try so hard to feel good. It’s just there.
This is something I am challenged with on a daily basis, but every day that my intention to honor my natural feelings is in place, I feel the pendulum swing lessen.
Let’s free ourselves from the instability of emotional whiplash and remember that just being ourselves, at level ground, is actually a really good place to be.
In Soul, Danielle
(This post was originally published on Elephant Journal)