The warmest, fuzziest kind of torment

Wednesday, March 25, 2015



Little known fact: I work part-time as a barista for a juice and coffee bar in Malibu.

One morning for my break I took a table on the patio. It was the one where, if you can spot it fading into the sky and hiding between the condos, you can see the ocean. At the table not far from me were two Malibuites having their coffee. Being the nosy (although I prefer “curious,” “observant,” or “perceptive”) person that I am, I couldn’t help but devote a certain amount of my periphery to the situation.

“The good news is,” the woman stated definitively to the man behind the latest copy of the The Malibu Times, “is that I’m in a good mood today.”

Well isn’t that a peculiar thing to say, I thought to myself as I innocently and intently broke off another chunk of my larabar. (Then again, Malibuites are affectionately--but notoriously--peculiar.) She may as well have said that the weather was forecast to be lovely, or that the Dow Jones was up 100 points. The psychology major in me wanted to refer her to a cognitive-behavioral therapist before she could even take her next sip. Doesn’t she know that our feelings follow our thoughts--that daily life in general is what we make of it?

The interesting thing was, I was currently working to identify my own feelings about a particular situation that had recently found its way into my life. In general, I like to think I don’t give much weight to feelings; and yet, it was gnawing at me that I couldn’t pin them down. Was I happy? Was I sad? Some kind of ambivalent hybrid? I mean, I’m not like a leaf tossed on a sea of emotions or anything; I’m certainly not going to report them like a newscast that need affect my life. But I can justify running my thoughts in circles in an attempt to identify them... right?

Why, oh why do we torment ourselves?!

Why do we grant weight to things that change like the tide but are less predictable? Even as someone who has proudly and consciously acknowledged feelings to be the dastardly fickle things that they are still finds herself clinging to the idea that they possess significance--why else is it so crucial that I identify them?--and that this “significance” grants us the power to dictate whether we’re happy or sad, whether we’re content or miserable, and, indirectly but ultimately, allow it to steer the path that we call life.

What I think we must always consider is that societies ingrain in us the importance of certain things, and a favorite for Western culture is feelings. Well-meaning, ambiguous sayings such as “follow your heart!” reinforce the notion that ever-changing emotions somehow have the ability to lead us to the right place. We sometimes treat them almost as if they’re divine, when really they’re equivalent to putting a blindfold over your eyes, a leash on your dog, and telling Sparky to lead the way. The comparison is almost offensive to us, isn’t it? Which only serves to prove my point.

The problem I have with feelings is that how we feel sometimes conflicts with what’s right--and wins. If nothing else, giving deference to our feelings puts them in a position of influence over how we experience life. Emotions are very much a part of being human, and while they can positively contribute to the ride, my break that day was a reminder to re-evaluate the amount of power and credit that they’re due.
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