Sunday, November 20, 2011

something I've been thinking about




If you've been reading this blog for very long, or know me very well, you already know there are some recurring themes of things I often think about, and read about, research, ponder, talk about, ruminate on, try to figure out, etc etc ad infinitum. One of those topics is about our moods, feelings, emotions and how much we do or don't control them, how and why we react to them, how to manage them, how to cope. Something like that. It's interesting stuff.


I am often bothered by the notion that we can "choose to be happy" or that we "choose to be offended" - or any of these ideas that somehow we can just make a mental choice to feel whatever it is we think we "should" be feeling - or not feel what we "shouldn't". Quite frankly, (and I know I'm treading on dangerous, controversial ground here), I don't buy it. Now, before anyone attacks me with their own strong opinions on this, let me just allow that I am still working these things out in my own mind. I haven't gotten it all figured out. And let me humbly assert that, ahem, neither do you . . . or anyone else. We are all human, forming our own fallible opinions based on our own very individual, limited experiences. We don't have all the answers and we cannot know what anyone else is really experiencing, much as we might try.


But, this quote above rings true to me. Or at least mostly true. I saw it on Pinterest and added it to my collection and I've been mulling it over, trying to decide what I think. I think it is important to let ourselves feel whatever emotion is being evoked in us. Really and truly, I think it is healthy to acknowledge all our feelings, good and bad, positive and negative, all the things we should or shouldn't feel. I am not sure that we really make conscious choices to feel anything. But we can choose what to do with our feelings. And like this quote, we can choose (more or less) what we will focus our thoughts on, which waves we will surf. This analogy strikes me because I think that some days, the waves are just a little rougher than others. There are days when our choices of which waves to ride are just a little more limited because of the conditions creating the waves. Not to mean it is out of our control completely. Or that we are left completely at the whim of external circumstances. I don't know for sure how much of the waves we help to create ourselves, or the conditions that create the waves. There's a lot to consider I guess and I can't pretend to expect this analogy to stand up to all scrutiny. It certainly doesn't.


I guess part of what I'm trying to express though is that sometimes it feels to me like we are bombarded by huge rough tumbling towering waves, one right after the other, no breaks, no breathers, no clearly "better" ones to surf. It feels to me like sometimes it's all we can do just to keep our head above water and try to make it back to shore in one piece. There is also a bit of skill to be learned, like surfing. I've never surfed so I really don't know - but I imagine it takes quite a bit of practice to learn which waves are "better" to ride, and it takes lots of practice to be able to surf without a whole lot of "wiping out." Knowing how to deal with our own feelings and especially those of others is tricky business, a lifelong pursuit. I can even see that surfers must also take a lot of time to learn how to read the conditions and ascertain when maybe it's just best to observe the waves from afar and not jump in and paddle too far out. In other words, maybe sometimes we just need to observe our tumultuous stormy feelings and let them work themselves out on their own.


I don't know. Hm. What do you think about all of this? Am I trying to read too much into a rather simple concept? Is it helpful at all to you to think of feelings as waves and choosing which ones to surf - or not? Am I just waxing a little to deeply (psycho) philosophical? Should I just keep my thoughts to myself? ;)

Be nice (as always, of course). But do share. Thanks!

9 comments:

zac said...

Growing up in Ocean City, I tried a little surfing. Not easy. Apart from getting drilled into the sand and rolling along the bottom, it was a fun adventure - kind of like life. I totally agree that we do not get to pick our emotions. I remember once becoming angry with a man who very passionately attacked my core beliefs (while a missionary in Spain). I was so angr my eye began to twitch. That was a first, kind of embarrassing too. No matter how hard I tried to will this emotional reaction to stop, it would not until the the "wave" passed. I eventually gained control of the situation and was able to catch a more positive wave and we parted on good terms. Surprisingly friendly terms too. I really do believe, based on my experiences, that we can't choose our feelings but we can choose how to respond to them. For example, when we receive tragic news, we can't just will ourselves happy, despite the natural anguish, but we can choose to do all we can to move on and to make the best of a tough time. Same with anger and even happiness. It's hard to force ourselves to feel sad, when something wonderful has happened.

Ashley Case said...

Thank you for this. I totally agree with everything you said. Those that think we can choose all of our emotions are people that I just don't understand at all. Of course we have emotional reactions to things and there are a lot of factors that contribute to the extent of those reactions. I know we have control over our actions, but I find myself being happy or sad or curious or mad, despite whether I want to be or not.

Colleen said...

Hmmm... I see what you're saying, but I respectfully disagree. :) I really think we CAN choose whether or not to wallow in our emotions. I think a huge part of learning self-discipline and maturity is acknowledging our emotions and then choosing not to let them control or overwhelm us. I think that's what it means to choose to be happy.

Kristen said...

Colleen, that is what I said though. Or part of what I was trying to say. Most of the time, we can choose which ones to surf . . .

Colleen said...

I guess I was just disagreeing with your original premise - you disagreed with the idea that we can "choose to be happy" or that we "choose to be offended." That's where we differ.

Christina G. said...

I very much enjoyed your post, particularly as I have struggled to find my way in/around/through my own feelings. I like the first part of the wave analogy - that we have no control. Not sure about the choosing part. I think it's more about learning how to handle EVERY emotion, not just choosing which ones to "surf". When you surf you don't have to face every wave. You don't have to go out in a storm. As a person with feelings, I don't think I have that choice. I think I have to handle every emotion, every feeling, every time. I have to learn how to navigate each and every one whether I want to or not. Learning to control the intensity of the feeling/emotion is the learned skill comparable to surfing - difficult if not impossible to master. But I absolutely agree, you can't stop them from coming, you can't choose how you will feel, it just happens. Thank you for this.

Christina G. said...

I very much enjoyed your post, particularly as I have struggled to find my way in/around/through my own feelings. I like the first part of the wave analogy - that we have no control. Not sure about the choosing part. I think it's more about learning how to handle EVERY emotion, not just choosing which ones to "surf". When you surf you don't have to face every wave. You don't have to go out in a storm. As a person with feelings, I don't think I have that choice. I think I have to handle every emotion, every feeling, every time. I have to learn how to navigate each and every one whether I want to or not. Learning to control the intensity of the feeling/emotion is the learned skill comparable to surfing - difficult if not impossible to master. But I absolutely agree, you can't stop them from coming, you can't choose how you will feel, it just happens. Thank you for this.

zac said...

It sounds like we're discussing to different definitions of offense and happiness all generally agree. For example, I think all of us feel offense or are basically offended when someone says or does something that hurts our feelings but often "offended" refers less to the reactive feeling of hurt and refers more to an unwillingness to let go those hurt feelings. So, Colleen appears to disagree with the latter definition but so does Kristen and all the rest of us. I think it is unreasonable to assume we would never feel offense - not honest if we say it (well, there may be a few exceptions out there maybe). It takes real gutts to not dwell on offenses and its an amzingly healing thing. I think choosing happiness is the same too. Even when my world is falling apart, I would typically tell you I'm happy, even though I may be very sad, because despite the sad feelings, I have family that loves me and generally a very blessed life. The sad feeling may still dwell with me for a while until I can work them. So I choose happiness but I can't always choose to feel happy.

Jennifer Pelo Rawlings said...

Interesting comments.

It does sound like, in your second paragraph, that you don't think we can choose how we react to things, though Zac says that is not what you are saying. So if you are saying you don't think we can choose how we react, then I disagree. If what you are trying to say is that you don't think we can choose in a moment what emotions beset us, then I mostly agree.

The quote is saying that we are going to have feelings, whether we like them or not, but we ALWAYS have the choice in how we react to those feelings. ALWAYS. Of course, we will have times when we feel better equipped to deal with our feelings. When I am tired, hungry, or PMSing I don't have the physical, spiritual, or mental strength that I might have at other times to "choose" happiness. At those times, I try to be easy with myself, realizing that I'm not fully myself and allow myself a little pity party, chocolate and extra care.

I can't stay there though. I don't want to. I know I'm happier when I take care of myself and choose to let things roll on by instead of dwelling on them too much. It takes practice to not take things too personally, to try to have more empathy and understanding for others, and to let things go quickly.

I think we can change our nature, of course you know that from your missionary work, and just life in general. We are always changing, hopefully for the better. So practicing choosing more positive reactions than negative ones will help them become more natural for that to be our stronger reaction. As well read as you are, I know you have enough evidence of the ability to change and choose.

I grew up with a mother who was in counseling a lot. She shared with me at an early age that I was responsible for my emotions, that no one could MAKE me feel anything. It's tough to take responsibility for that. To say, "I feel angry," instead of, "You made me feel angry." It's a subtle difference, but it actually puts the power in your hands. Instead of feeling like a victim and that life is completely out of control and that you are only being acted upon.

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