Getting Past Feeling Bad

Most of us, if not all of us, feel like posers. We’re not thin enough. We’re not strong enough. We’re not calm enough. We’re not making enough. We’re just not enough.

Why is that? Why is that especially in a society that — for all the challenges and real problems that exist (and they do) — has so much more than, not just those who were adults 50 or 60 years ago, but for all of human history.

We can point to the social media epidemic. But it’s not the whole story. Marketers also must share the blame. We get a barrage of ads designed to make us feel inadequate, and we have for years.

The Upside of Feeling Bad

Despite the soul-crushing effects induced by unrelenting messages of not being enough, there is an upside: It can lead us to improve our lives.

The motivation we all need at times to change our habits and make better choices can come from an appropriate evaluation of our current state. We may actually be consuming too much unhealthy food, which we know has life-altering consequences over time. We may need to “hit the gym” instead of watching yet-another dance or cat video. Balanced levels of honest self-evaluation can help each of us make improvements leading to richer, fuller lives.

But those self-evaluations can also get out-of-control.

The Downside of Feeling Bad

Imagine you love ice cream. Imagine it is your go-to happy food. Now, imagine you were required to eat only ice cream for a week. How long would it be before you longed for something other than ice cream? I suspect not long.

This effect is called “Hedonic Adaptation.” And, if we let it, it can put us on an ever faster treadmill of seeking out new experiences and change.

We create a toxic mix when we combine that hedonic effect with our tendency to compare ourselves, both to others and some imagined idea of who we think we should be. This mix pushes us, as researcher Rachit Dubey notes, “to get that new, next shiny thing” to which we adapt, and “then you want something else. So this is the cycle of habituation and comparisons that can lead to this drive of always wanting more.” We’re left never feeling good.

Moving Past Feeling Bad

Thankfully, we’re not machines stuck in this cycle. We can make choices to move into a mindset that gains the benefits while avoiding the negative consequences.

Know Your Values, Then Set Your Goals

The first choice we need to make is to choose goals aligned with our values, with what we desire from life. It requires care to not blindly take on someone else’s — our parent’s, our friend’s, or our culture’s — notion of success, and to choose that which fits who we are, who we’re made to be.

Happiness researcher Tal Ben-Shahar suggests we start by asking if the goal will add to or detract from our basic happiness. Good goals leads us to be more of who we're created to be; they're never for show or to impress someone.

Practice Gratitude

There is ample research to show that becoming aware of and thankful for that which we already have — that is, practicing gratitude — is a powerful antidote to the destructive toxic mix of habituation and comparison.

Integrate gratitude practice into your daily routine by taking a few moments at the start or end your day to remind yourself of all the ways you and your life are good enough. There will always be things to improve and changes to make. But there are also always things for which we can, and should be, thankful. Think broadly as you look over what you have since we easily take for granted many good things, letting them fade into the background. Some do not have clean water; we do. Some don't have enough food; we do. Some don't have the freedom to make the most of our lives; we do. We should be thankful.

Sometimes, Good Enough is Enough

Our lives are a gift we should not waste. Striving and making the most of the days we have is, in some sense, a responsibility we all have. But that effort is best directed at working to become the best versions of ourselves — being good to others and living up to our potential — rather than exhausting ourselves on a treadmill of pleasure seeking and comparison.

Sometimes, and much more often then our influences lead us to believe, good enough really is enough.

Remember Life Can Be Good!™