On the value of emotion..
June 12, 2009
Q. Being a cynic, as so many of us are these days, I imagine that everything that can go wrong in a situation will. What does your book have to say about the low-level anxiety most of us experience?
A. You probably think it would be good if you could feel perfectly happy at every moment of your life. But we have a word for animals that cannot feel distress, anxiety, fear, and pain: The word is extinct. Negative thoughts and emotions have important roles to play in our lives because when people think about how terribly wrong things might go, they often take actions to make sure those things go terribly right. Just as we manipulate our children and our employees by threatening them with dire consequences, so too do we manipulate ourselves by imagining dire consequences. Sure, people can be so anxious that their anxiety is debilitating, but that’s the extreme case. For most of us, anxiety serves a purpose. It is what keeps you from sending your nine-year old to the rough part of town one night for a loaf of bread. If someone could offer you a pill that would make you permanently happy, you would be well advised to run fast and run far. Emotion is a compass that tells us what to do, and a compass that is perpetually stuck on NORTH is worthless.