Years ago I worked with teenagers at youth camps. I would also help them to create various experiential workshops based on the camp theme the youth had selected the year before.
Then, shortly after entering college, I decided to try my hand at running a youth group. The time for camp came, and I joined my young peers at a beautiful camp with pretty darn good food too.
The first day of workshops began; workshops which, for the first time, I had no role in creating. We were all given a piece of paper with several questions. One in particular asked, “What determines the decisions you make in your life?” Underneath were four options, of which we were to select one and then share with the group the reason for our choice. I don’t remember all the choices, but I remember the one I picked: “If it feels good, do it!”
As everyone began to share, I suddenly realized this was not the popular choice. I thought about changing my answer, I was an advisor after all, I had a example to set. Or wasn’t that the point?!? To set the example of what can be? How societal perceptions can tell us one thing is bad, and yet in reality it is so right, so on the mark! So I stuck to my guns and shared my answer.
It was not received well. At first folks giggled, but when it was clear I was serious, I had the feeling of being shunned. How could I say such a thing? Well, because for me it is true. I do not believe when I harm someone, steal something or am rude it feels good.
What feels good is thinking of others, being of service and considering options that might appeal to more, rather than fewer, folks. Being open to new ideas and concepts feels good. Not assuming a certain group is inherently good or bad, but rather just another part of our great world, our great diversity. All of that feels good!
I readily acknowledge there are folks who think doing bad things that benefit them, and only them, feels good. But I would argue they have just not had the opportunity to feel how good it feels to do a nice turn or they live in fear of all they could lose. They worship things over people, and gaining them doesn’t make them happy (or even less afraid), but their fear drives them to continue this behavior.
Frankly, such folks, to me, suffer a sort of mental illness. When we see a lost child, we want to help it, at least most of us do. Anyone who doesn’t want to help it, but rather wants to take advantage and do harm, we would all agree is sick, seriously sick. So why does that not carry over to lesser things? lesser situations?
When we are driving and someone cuts us off we may yell and send obscene signs to them. Does that feel good? I don’t think so. I think that is anger. We don’t appreciate the rudeness and are responding to it. Anger is an core emotion, it happens and it passes. If it does not pass, then it becomes a problem. But most of us cannot recall every time we have been cut off or in some other way infringed upon while driving on the roads. So for us, it passes.
I have no idea why a person cuts me off. It could be just a mistake. I am sure I have accidentally cut folks off from time-to-time. If so, I apologize, it was not my intent to ruin your drive, or day, or life.
Today, when someone cuts me off and I am in a good place mentally, I remind myself I have no idea what that person’s intentions were, but I am pretty sure it was not personal.
Folks who get antsy behind me because I only go five over the speed limit, well, honestly, I hope their life changes so they do not have to feel rushed all the time. My life has slowed down somewhat, and it does feel better than rushing around all the time.
Until I became disabled, I rarely considered how my body felt at all. My physical therapist had to teach me to notice (what I perceived then) as subtle changes in my body. Today some of those “subtle” things seem to just scream out at me, like tuck in your tummy, keep both feet pointed forward, don’t let your knee twist when you sit, stand up or climb stairs.
When I was first told twisting my knee increased my pain, I minimized the potential impact it could have on my life, so that I did not have to deal with it.
After it was repeatedly explained to me, I decided to prove the physical therapist wrong by actually doing what I was told. (Yes, I know, it’s not the best way, but it is the way I come to many of my realizations, through a hard core stubborn attitude — it’s getting better with time, but I’m not done with it yet apparently…)
Behold! My humiliating effort to prove my physical therapist wrong failed. It felt good to not twist the knee, at least better. The result was I began to focus on my movement, to keep my knee straight more and more and now I am a sort of “Yogi of the Twisted Knee”. Even if I begin to twist it just slightly, I notice and correct. It feels good, so I do it!
Same with helping folks. If it feels good I do it. This solves so many issues for me. Being co-dependent does not feel good — I’m not sure how to explain that feeling, but it’s not a good one. Helping folks when my body is exhausted and needs to rest does not feel good either. But when I am mentally and physically able to be of service, it feels great!
It also solves the whole issue of balance. I can never figure out how to balance stuff, but it’s not hard. If it feels good, do it! If it doesn’t feel good, something is out of balance. Tweak things until it feels good again.
Finally, some smarty-pants is probably saying, “but pain does not feel good, so what about that?” Well, I did not create my pain. The question was what I based my decisions on, how do I decide what I will do or not do. I have no decision in whether my body is in pain, I have no decision in about whether my chronic illnesses stay or go. They will all stay until someone, somewhere, finds a cure.
But I do have a decision in how I treat or care for myself.
Before I make this all sound too easy…it’s not. It is actually very difficult for me to always do what feels good. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but it is for me.
I learned many things form many people in my life, many of which were just not true. Regardless of my ability to see that today, my brain has learned to do things a certain way, and unlearning that takes time. I used to think debating everyone was fun. It turns out I don’t really enjoy it at all, but I still engage in it once in a while. It is like a bad habit that is hard to break.
If I am tired, haven’t eaten, feeling a bit lonely or just having a difficult time staying upbeat, it is easy for me to do things that don’t feel as good as other things I could choose.
If you’re immune from such poor decision making – rock on! But that’s not me. I am fairly disciplined, but one thing pain and illness have done is made it far less likely I can use discipline to plow through difficult times. The body just won’t go and, at some point, neither does the mind.
When these times come, the best thing I can do is relax and take it easy. There is no point in beating myself up for excruciating pain or conditions which simply do not allow for exercise or proper eating on certain days. Doing so actually makes, for me, recovering from these periods worse. Once I start beating myself up, I get into a downward spiral.
Remembering I have chronic pain and chronic illness which invades my personal space, my mind, my emotions, my LIFE on a regular basis is key. I don’t get to rely on discipline alone. I can’t plow through life anymore. I have to take it as it comes. And when it the pain is excruciating, it is time to step back, relax, do the best I can and wait for a level of pain I am more used to operating within.
It feels better to accept I am not at the top of my game than to beat myself up over it, but even that is not always easy for me. I still seem to prefer to suffer than break a commitment to someone else. (As I am always in pain, it really takes suffering for me to break a commitment.)
The thing is, we will ever have it all sorted out. We’re all just doing the best we can. Ideals are rarely reality because they are static and life is in constant flux. So what we want to do, and what we can do don’t always sync up. It’s okay, that’s how life is. If we can be more at peace with that, we can start to tap into what really feels good and know our decisions have a sound basis.
Doing things for others feels good. Caring for my body feels good. Stepping back when my body is in revolt feels better than pushing it beyond its limits. It’s a simple ideal. We get better at it with practice, but life will always surprise us and throw us off our game, at least now and then. Whatever is thrown our way will pass — I just think knowing this helps it pass faster for me, or maybe easier, maybe both.
So as this New Year begins, why not make our resolution, “If it feels good, do it.” Let us strive to learn more about what ‘really’ feels good, and then see if we don’t just want to do more of that ‘feel good’ stuff?