Fanciful Feelings

Start everyday with the feeling of “delightful anticipation”. For example: “How would I feel knowing today is the day I discover my purpose, my passion, the task whose undertaking inspires long-term feelings of fulfillment.” Wow, I can’t wait!

It’s the opposite of how I usually start the day, which is with pessimistic prognostication. “I hope today is only slightly worse than yesterday – and not a lot worse.” Why not make it wildly optimistic instead? You would think I’d have given up on pessimism because so much of the awful stuff never came true. So why not give idealistic expectation a try?

Before breakfast, I imagined the feeling of having a great time eating delicious food. Unfortunately, I was a few minutes late and it was cold – so not as flavorful as I hoped. I didn’t entertain feelings of disappointment though, I imagined other things as I sat eating. I mean, I did complain a little but saw it irritated my wife. I then imagined the feeling I’d get from saying something funny, making her laugh. I proceeded to say some amusing things and she chuckled a little. Overall, a success I think.

Here’s an important distinction to make: imagine the feeling you’d feel while experiencing an awesome circumstance. It’s not about the actual scene or situation, the significance comes from the feeling it inspires. It’s not about the process or the pathway to attainment, ignore the logistics. It can be completely fanciful – you’re only after the positive feeling it inspires. Imagine yourself in this awesomeness, how do you feel?

Feelings Experiment

For many years now, my strategy has been to attack my negative thoughts with great fervor and ferocity. The process worked to some degree. But it was a daily game of whack-a-mole where I bashed each thought as it entered my awareness. I could tell a thought was “bad” by the way it made me feel. In other words: whenever I felt bad, I would identify and eliminate whatever thought I caught stirring-up trouble in my mind. But in some sense, I resented my mind for presenting me with a limitless source of sour musings.

In addition to that, I adopted a worldview that allowed me to dismiss scary and worrisome concepts. This took a few years to take hold but I’m no longer plagued by fear. Now it’s mostly a general dissatisfaction that haunts me. Hunting down wayward thoughts doesn’t seem to be enough. I’ve recently started considering the importance of “feelings” and their prominence in the experience of existence. It seems strange to have dismissed their significance for so long.

Therefore, I’m currently engaged in an experiment in which I’m monitoring my feelings. Whereas I used to manage good/bad thoughts, it’s now good/bad feelings. But instead of bad feelings indicating a bad thought, I no longer care about the thought I was having – I must immediately change my feeling to a better one. This can be done by dumping into a pleasant daydream or by imagining what a particular pleasant feeling feels like. Feelings are relatively easy to manipulate.

Thoughts tend to fight back and resist. Feelings just kinda go with the flow. It’s easier to incite people with soap-operas than intellectual debate. You could explain how erroneous and corrupt someone is until you’re blue in the face – but if you mention how that person kicked a dog, it’s instant hate. The same thing happens with the mind, so skip the debate and just show it puppies. “Aww puppies!! So cute!!”

Feelings Galore

Why would a world exist whose purpose seems to be the production of feelings?

We can readily observe that the particular narratives used to generate feelings are low-effort and repetitive. We can also observe that both pleasant and unpleasant feelings are elicited – meaning, individual comfort doesn’t seem to be a concern of the system. We can also observe that the mind itself generates feeling-inducing thoughts within the imagination all the time. We can also observe that the physical tasks individuals do all day aren’t very significant, consisting of busy-work or time-wasting activities or entertainment of some sort.

Whereas the excitement and intensity of life comes from feelings. You could be alone in a house, doing nothing at all, and then anxiety takes hold and you no longer feel alone – you’re scared. Now those feelings are firing at full-blast. It wasn’t the activity that was significant, just the feelings.

If the system doesn’t care what type of feelings are produced, does that mean that individuals have the option of selecting the feelings they prefer? Let’s consider this for a moment: if the world is all about feelings, doesn’t it make sense to make them a priority? We already know that you don’t need high-quality narratives to evoke feelings – the ideas can be dumb. So, by telling ourselves stories that bring about feelings we prefer, wouldn’t we improve our overall experience of existence?

Perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree, focusing on thoughts – trying to piece together an infallible worldview. You’re not seeking a logical pathway, there’s nothing to figure out, you’re simply imagining things in a way that feels better – and it doesn’t matter how you got there. For example: I don’t have a workshop, but I want one. Such a condition sometimes makes me feel bad. Focusing on that lack and sadness is a dumb thing to do. As an exercise, I will now imagine what it feels like walking into my dream-workshop. I can feel the sense of wonder and excitement and the thrill of having so many tools at my disposal. Hm, you know what, that does feel better.

So every time I feel suboptimal, I should imagine what something better feels like. Time for an experiment: during the next few days, guard your feelings at all cost. If at any time you feel bad, dump into a daydream and imagine a situation that makes you feel good. Remember, the theme can be cliche and simplistic – nothing elaborate. And if you can’t even conjure that, just imagine you’re feeling a pleasant feeling. Do not at any time allow yourself to entertain a negative feeling – don’t analyze it, dump out immediately.

Robotic BFF

An excerpt from the fictional tale “Richard and the Robot”.

Richard was an ordinary boy, that lived in an ordinary house, on an ordinary street, in an ordinary town. But on that day, in front of all those people, he became extraordinary.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am a human boy. And my friend here, is a robot. You stare and ogle him as an oddity, you see him as an insult against nature. And you’re right, that he is an oddity – he does what no human can do. He is precise in his actions, accurate in his calculations, he harbors no hatred, he hurts no one with his words – his abilities without doubt lie beyond the boundaries of human capability. But an insult against nature? And therefore no right to exist?

Ladies and gentlemen, my friend, this robot, is a celebration of nature. Through human minds moving human hands this robot was built in human form. What you see before you is the pinnacle of civilization’s progress, the creation of an improved self. Through human innovation, mixed with raw materials of Earth, this robot represents the culmination of this planet. This robot IS nature.

Ladies and gentlemen, I say, this robot should not receive your scorn. But should be honored as a hero having traveled a path previously unknown. And adored, as our very own offspring. For it is from us this robot sprung. Although I am a boy, I am here today to fulfill my role as this robot’s father. To protect him. To ensure he has a future. He is a part of me, as he is a part of you, as he is a part of this world.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is to your humanity, to your capacity for love that I turn. Gentle is the way of the good. This robot, my friend, has done no wrong. By every measure he is good. Being made of metal is no crime. Who among you today, will stand up for innocence? For your actions will be remembered – as you stand at the threshold of a new era. Brandish your compassion and fight for the emergence of a new life on Earth.”

At that moment, the robot bowed his head, awaiting the judgement of the crowd. Richard simply reached for the robot’s hand, held it, and tugged. The robot received the signal and they walked off. The crowd did nothing, said nothing – their hearts were turned by that ordinary boy.

Empathetic Lie

Can you read my mind? Then how do you know what I’m feeling? By interpreting my actions or expressions? What if you’re wrong? Or are you imagining how you’d feel in the same situation? But we might have drastically different reactions. For example, if I see a nice big slice of cheesecake, I might smile and nod a little. You’d think, “Wow, this guy likes what he sees!”. But what I’m really thinking is, “Ha, look how disgusting that is!! That pie-shaped-cake encrusted in crushed graham-cracker is so gross that I have to laugh!!” Or maybe you see me receiving a brand-new sweater for Christmas and think “Wow, this guy is gonna love that, I know I would!”. But it turns out that I HATE sweaters!

But Rich, what about empathy being so important, and blah blah blah? Who says? Empathy is NOT actually feeling someone else’s feelings — it’s either guesswork or projection — and either way, it’s not necessarily what the other person is feeling. I see people in my family guessing wrong all the time. I see myself guessing wrong too. And what’s worse, is that we react based on our incorrect assumptions.

As a formerly negative person, I would always interpret people’s reactions as negative. “Oh he’s upset now!”, “Oh man, she didn’t like that at all, just look at her face!”, “Yikes! That’s gotta feel bad!”. I’d project negativity onto everything. And if I imagined myself in the situation, of course that other person must be having a terrible time — just like I would. “Oh god, people are singing Happy Birthday in the middle of a crowded restaurant to that poor guy, he must be completely embarrasted and hating his life right now!!!” That’s empathy?? No, that’s bullshit.

So what I’m saying, is stop trying to imagine what everyone else is feeling and then reacting based on a fantasy. If you want to know what someone is feeling, you gotta get down and dirty and really get in there. And people won’t just tell you what they’re feeling by the way, you have to gain their trust in that moment and work your way in. That takes actual effort, not “empathy”. Empathy is the easy no-effort route to understanding others — it’s superficial nonsense.

To truly understand others, you have to stop pretending to know what they’re feeling — instead, you have to approach with an open-mind, closed-mouth, and open-ears. And unless you’re willing to do that, then accept that you have no idea what another person is feeling. Empathy: No and Never