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If It Feels Good, Is It a Sin?

Your Feelings Aren’t Perfect, But Neither Are They Always Wrong

You are under no automatic and unqualified moral obligation to sit around and tolerate experiences that make you feel bad. You are under no automatic and unqualified moral obligation to do stuff that you don’t enjoy doing.

Before you react to those statements, please go back and reread the words “automatic and unqualified.”

Automatic means “done or occurring spontaneously, without conscious thought or intention.”

Unqualified means “without reservation or limitation; total.”

Sometimes you will have a good reason to endure uncomfortable experiences, but sometimes you won’t. Sometimes it’s very wise to persist in a course of action even when it ceases to be fun, but sometimes it’s not. You shouldn’t assume that you always have a moral duty to do stuff you hate. You shouldn’t assume that you’re always being shallow or shifty when you choose to opt out of activities you don’t enjoy.

Don’t Put Pain On A Pedestal

If you genuinely believe you should keep subjecting yourself to an experience that makes you feel bad, then you should honestly ask yourself “what is the reward, end-goal, or ethical principle that makes this experience worth enduring?”

Athletes who consistently engage in strenuous physical exercise, for instance, do so because the rewards of being healthy or physically fit are worth the discomfort of working out.

Employees who go to work when they don’t feel like it are doing so because the rewards of getting paid, or honoring their commitments, or showing respect to their customers are worth the effort.

Parents who sacrifice sleep, recreation, and quiet time in order to be there for their children are doing so because of the intangible rewards involved in nurturing a human life.

These people are not masochists. They’re rational decision-makers who understand the basics of cost-benefit analysis.

If you’re forcing yourself to put up with something that bothers you and you’re not doing this because of a higher reward, goal, or ethical principle, then you’re basically choosing to be a masochist. You’re basically saying “It’s good for me to do painful things because painful things are inherently good.” You’re basically saying “As long as I’m doing things that are unpleasant, I never have to think critically about why I’m doing those things.” You’re basically putting pain on a pedestal. You’re making a god out of the experience of being uncomfortable and unhappy.

Moods do not trump moral standards. Feelings do not take precedence over facts. But within the context of what’s morally permissible and logically compelling, you can make a million different choices. Why not make the choice that feels right for you? It’s one thing to be a delusional person who denies unpleasant facts. It’s another thing to treat painful experiences as if they are always necessary and good.

Always Ask “Why Not?”

People are so quick to say things like “You shouldn’t tune something out just because it makes you feel bad,” but why not?

Where did we get this odd notion that it’s automatically bad or unhealthy for a person to tune something out for not liking it? Since when is the burden of proof on people’s right to say “no” to things they don’t like? Since when did we magically transform our desire to feel good into some kind of evil thing that should always be mistrusted? When did we decide to start placing such blind faith in things that make us feel bad? When did we decide to stop demanding reasons from those who insist on telling us we have to do X or we have to focus on Y when those things clearly feel like crap to us? Do we really believe that pain is so holy, so sacred, so beyond questioning, that we actually think it’s good for people to “tough it out” when there are no good reasons for why they should tough it out?

If you’re eating a meal and it tastes like crap, do you force yourself to finish it just because you’re afraid other people will think you’re weak? Gasp! You stopped eating that horrible sandwich JUST BECAUSE it made you feel bad? How shallow of you.

If you’re watching a movie or reading a book and it’s an absolutely terrible experience, do you force yourself to finish it just because you’re afraid other people will think you’re a flake? Gasp! You stopped wasting your time on things that weren’t contributing to your quality of life JUST BECAUSE it made you feel bad? How shallow of you.

If someone asks you out on a date and you have zero attraction to that person, do you say “yes” just because you don’t want to make a decision based on your feelings? Gasp. You mean you actually refused to go out on a date with someone JUST BECAUSE you didn’t feel good about it? Wow! Do you do EVERYTHING based on feelings?

Here’s my question to you: At what point do you give yourself permission to stop doing stuff you hate? At what point do you allow yourself the freedom to stop putting up with B.S. that drags you down? At what point will you let yourself honor your feelings as having an important role in your decision-making process?

Unnecessary Plus Unpleasant = Self-Defeating

Is there more to making good decisions than just listening to your feelings? Of course there is. But why would you turn such a commonsense principle into a masochistic philosophy that says you never have the permission to choose what feels best when there are zero good reasons for why you should do otherwise?

Remember this: If you’re going to do something that feels bad, at least make sure you have a darn good reason for that.

Here’s a five step process you can use to make sure you’re not being manipulated into doing stuff that is both unpleasant and unnecessary:

1. Ask yourself “What do I want?”
2. Ask yourself, “Are there any good reasons for why I should not want what I want?”
3. Think critically about your answer to #3. Seek counter-perspectives. Carefully consider the arguments that could be made against your potential decisions. Be honest with yourself.
4. In the absence of any morally or logically compelling reason to do otherwise, do whatever you feel like doing.
5. Refuse to feel guilty about #4. Remind yourself that it’s actually not a sin to feel good.

If you take nothing else away from the above, please understand this: Doing stuff you hate is not an automatic virtue. You are not a virtuous person merely because you’re doing something that’s painful or unpleasant. Virtue is not based on the emotions you feel while you’re performing an action. Virtue is based on the reasons why you do things. So don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming you’re a saint just because you’re making all kinds of sacrifices. Push yourself to live a life that’s rooted in reason (ironic, right?) by refusing to be manipulated with false guilt and illusory obligation.

Don’t follow your feelings at the expense of what is good, just, or true…

AND

Don’t be led by guilt when there’s no legitimate reason for you to feel guilty.

Note: If you insist on following false obligations that bring you no pleasure or reward, then you’re actually not endorsing masochism at all. At least the masochist insists on doing painful things because he/she gets pleasure out of it. 

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