I keep a list of ideas for writing, most of which I don’t use. As I look at it now I think I should probably just write a blog that is composed entirely of my list of ideas. No context. No explanation. Just the list. It could be poetry. Someone might even think it was profound. But, no. I won’t do that. For one thing it would betray my secret list and I would have no ideas for blog posts. For another, it would be terrible poetry, and I wouldn’t do that to you.
Today, though, as I looked over my list this one idea seemed blog-worthy. It was, “Some emotions are largely a waste of time.” I don’t remember who said it or when, or if I read it somewhere. I know it’s not an original thought because I wrote it in quotation marks. (Clearly, there are shortcomings to my notes. If you were the person who said this, I apologize for plagiarizing your idea, and I thank you for it. If you tell me who you are I will absolutely give you credit for it.)
But this is an idea for the ages. Don’t you agree? We stress so much about our emotions that they consume large portions of our thinking days. Even our nights, because they leak into our dreams. They cause us to agonize over our relationships, to talk about our moods, and to pay attention to whatever Oprah has to say. I’m not concerned with why that is so. That is the job for psychologists and psychiatrists. I’m more concerned with what a colossal waste of time and energy it is.
Most of the time all that emoting and thinking and researching and Oprah-watching don’t really get us anywhere. We just carry on. A little bit wiser, maybe, a little bit more empathetic, sometimes, but mostly just the same. Some wise person (probably my mother) said, “People really don’t change much.” And she (or he) was right.
Oh, I know that people can go through rehab or some other consciousness-raising behaviour-improving process. That’s a good thing, and I commend all those who do this. But in the end aren’t we all basically whoever we were when we were ten? Anyway, that’s a conversation for a different blog post.
Today I’m thinking about all the energy we expend on our emotions. It doesn’t matter if it is joy, or homesickness, or regret, or pride, or guilt, or feeling offended, or grief, or jealousy, or sympathy, or optimism. We think it matters. Maybe this is a middle-class first-world thing. When you are fed, housed, clothed and have vacations in lovely places, what is left to think about? Ourselves, that’s what. And mostly our emotions because everything else is taken care of.
Of all the emotions we waste so much time and energy and money on, some are more of a waste than others. Let’s take regret, for example. Whatever it was that you did, it can’t be undone. So just apologize, forget about it, and don’t do it again. Whatever you failed to do, well, you can probably do it later. Maybe not in the same way with the same people, but you can still do it. As long as you are breathing, you can do it. So just stop regretting. It’s a waste of time.
What about homesickness? That’s easy. Go home. It isn’t nearly as great as you remember it, but you’ll feel better for going. So just do it. Feeling homesick is a waste of time.
The big bad bugaboo of emotions is, of course, guilt. I sometimes wonder if guilt existed before Christianity, but I have a feeling that if it did it was a very different creature. Anyway, this is the big one. The double-decker quarter-pounder of time-wasting emotions. Anyone who has lived past the age of ten has experienced this feeling. It’s tied in with parental expectations, religious training, social mores, educational trappings…a whole bunch of stuff we can’t avoid that is designed to make us feel bad. And yes, it’s a waste of time.
Completely. No, really. Most of us would absolutely not go about stealing or coveting neighbours or murdering other people anyway. We want to get along. We know what pisses people off and so we try not to do those things.
Most of the time we spend on guilt isn’t about any of those major transgressions, anyway. We spend it on, say, the pen we accidentally walked away with, having one too many drinks, the thing we said that might have offended someone, the time we forgot to pick someone up at the airport. Dumb stuff. Stuff that really doesn’t matter. It’s a total waste of time.
So just stop it. OK? Say after me, “Some emotions are largely a waste of time.”
There, now. Don’t you feel better?
Yeah. I thought you would.