I had a rather interesting conversation in a pub the other night. A somewhat inebriated gentleman (aka drunk dude) was explaining to me how he made it a point to criticize everything in detail. He believed that it enhanced his enjoyment. After all, he preached, you could only truly enjoy something if you knew WHY you found it enjoyable and were able to explain those reasons to other people. His words made me think. I’m an intellectual, analytical person. So are most of the people I attract to this blog and into my life in general. I like to dissect ideas and beliefs. Hell, I do it for a living. And yet, I’ve come to a very different conclusion. I think what he was describing is a classic example of our minds getting in the way of our souls, with some really insidious limiting beliefs thrown in for good measure.
The core of my teaching is actually aimed at getting the mind, the analytical part of ourselves, out of the way so that the spiritual/emotional work can be done. The explanations I offer are there to appease the overanalytical mind, so that it will, for all intents and purposes, shut the hell up already and let us be happy.
So that’s what I’m going to do today: I’m going to dissect why we have such a need to dissect everything so that we can all stop dissecting stuff and just be happy. Or, if you prefer to go the quick and dirty route, you could just go and get drunk. That’ll work, too.
We do not need to understand joy to experience it?
When we look at a sunset, do we need to understand why we think it’s beautiful in order to appreciate it? In my opinion, no. In fact, trying to explain it could easily take us out of the moment. True joy and appreciation is experienced in the NOW, in this moment. It’s emotional not intellectual. I can explain beauty to you, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve experienced it. The feeling is not the same as the description.
This is easier to understand with nature – the grandeur of it can quite literally leave us speechless. Oh sure, many have tried to put its splendor into words. Poets, playwrights, and writers have done a great job creating works of beauty in their own right, many of which evoke strong emotions by themselves, but none of them provide the exact same experience as actually being there. They provide experiences onto themselves, not necessarily better or worse, just different. This is true for paintings, photographs and even video, as well. And we can kind of understand and accept that when it comes to things like nature.
But what about when it comes to people, or objects/experiences like wine, art, books, food, etc.? Is it ok to enjoy those kinds of experiences without being able to explain why? Doesn’t being able to name the specifics of why we like something allow us to share it with others? Can’t it actually enhance our enjoyment? This is where it starts to get a bit complicated. For example, would you rather enjoy a really nice glass of wine alone or with someone? And if you really love wine, don’t you naturally want to talk about it? Don’t you actually enjoy doing so? And doesn’t it feel a bit sad in comparison to just sit in a room by yourself with the old jug o’ vino? Strap on the oxygen masks, people, we’re about to go deep here.
Is it ok for me to like what I like?
When a child likes something, like a particular flavor of candy, he doesn’t need to know why. He just does. He’ll tell you he likes the grape better than the orange. End of discussion. There’s no need to explain why. He feels secure in his choice and doesn’t need to explain himself further.
As we grow older, however, we’re taught to place an incredible amount of value on the opinions of others. In fact, most of us learned to value what others think MORE than what we think. This is fine when we agree on something (we all like the grape best). But when we disagree even slightly, we find ourselves in a defensive mode – we need to explain why we like something. We feel the need to justify our choice, not only to validate ourselves (I like it and it’s ok that I like it because I have really good reasons), but also to hopefully win the other person over to our side. It’s an intellectual approach to pleasure. If I can explain to you why I like something and I make a compelling enough argument, then you may be convinced to like it, too. And if I can’t convince you to like it as well, then I at least want to get you to agree that my reasons for liking something are valid. In either case, I’m actually asking for your approval, or to be even more blunt about it – for your permission to like what I like.
Am I ok?
But this belief runs even deeper. For many of us, our opinion of something and its validity are tied to our self worth. If I can’t get you to agree that my opinion of something is valid, then I may well feel disapproved of. It’s no longer about the opinion. It’s about me. In other words, I’ve just tied my ability to experience pleasure to my self-worth. Holy shitballs Batman.
For example, one person will declare that they really like the Burgers from Grease Pit A, and then someone else will say that they like the Burgers from Grease Pit B. Both will feel challenged and will begin to defend why their choice is the valid one, as if they didn’t have the right to like their own Grease Pit if someone in the world, or at least in their vicinity, disagrees with them. People will defend their choices vehemently, sometimes even violently (think sports teams), because they’re not really defending their choice, but rather their own worth. If you say that the thing I like is stupid, you’re saying I’m stupid, and because I’ve been taught to believe everyone’s opinion of me over my own, and this particular opinion differs greatly from that of Who I Really Am and therefore causes a great deal of negative emotion, this clearly necessitates that someone get slapped. As a bonus, if someone happens to catch the exchange on video, we may all get a Reality TV show out of it. Ha.
Just like what you like
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We get to like what we like. We don’t need anyone to agree with us or validate our choices in order to like them. And if they don’t agree with our choices, that doesn’t mean that our self worth has to take a dip. Their opinion of our choices and even of us has absolutely nothing to do with how we feel, unless of course, we decide that it does.
It is possible to retrain ourselves, to decouple our own enjoyment from the validation of others. Here’s now:
- Spend some time enjoying things alone. If you like drinking wine, have a glass by yourself and pay attention to the taste. Do you still like it? Perhaps you don’t really like the taste of wine so much, as the experience of drinking with others. In that case, you may want to find a drink that you actually really like instead. Be prepared for some surprises here. You may not actually like the things you thought you did. You may simply have taken on someone else’s opinions. Make your own choices.
- When you find something you enjoy, just sit with it. Just experience it. Spend some time just being in the moment. When we dissect why we like something, it’s our mind’s way of making sense of an emotion. But when you recognize that you don’t need to make sense of it to feel it, and you just allow yourself to feel it, you take a shortcut to joy. You cut out the middleman. This does take some practice, so don’t expect to be perfect right away. But you may be amazed at how quickly you’ll remember how to do this.
- When you’re with others, give yourself permission to like your choices. Don’t justify them. If someone has a different opinion, see it as such. Their choice doesn’t negate yours. If you like green and they like red, that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. You each just have a preference and BOTH are valid. Just shrug your shoulders and say “ok” instead of declaring them an idiot.
- When you hear someone criticizing the choices of others or calling them “simple” for not being able to justify their opinions in a way they can agree with, understand that the person doing the criticizing is simply displaying their own insecurities. When someone is saying “Ha! You like that thing I don’t like and you can’t even explain why you like it” in a condescending way, what they’re really saying is “I believe that we are in a competition to see which one of us is less unworthy, and if I can disapprove of you more eloquently (or beat the crap out of you), then I clearly win, and I get to feel good about myself today.” They simply have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the world works. You don’t have to play that old game, and you don’t have to get them to play the new one with you.
- When you find yourself looking at something you like, ask yourself WHAT you like about it, instead of WHY you like it. List all the things you like about it. This will increase your enjoyment of it by causing you to focus on the vibration of the enjoyment. Often, when we focus on WHY we like something, we’re actually focusing on the possible disapproval we may face from others, and we’re mentally preparing ourselves for battle.
- When you do focus on WHY you like something, ask yourself if those are the true reasons you like something, or if you’re making a list that will help you defend your choice to others later.
- Pay attention to how you feel when someone disagrees with your choices. The less affected you are by their disagreement, the more secure you are. The goal is to not take their opinions of something you like personally.
But, what about shared enjoyment?
So, what about the pleasure we feel when we enjoy activities with others? Is that just an illusion based on the approval and validation we feel? Partially, yes. At least for many of us. But it doesn’t have to be. Spending time with others whom we resonate with does feel great. Sharing activities that bring us all joy feels wonderful. And discussing those shared interests in great detail gets us all focused on something we like, increasing the enjoyment even further. That’s not an illusion. In fact, when you get a bunch of happy people together, the power of all that focus grows exponentially. Two happy people don’t just feel twice as happy together as one happy person. The energy can actually be much bigger than that (this also works with negative emotions, by the way). This is why being at a concert or football stadium when your team is winning feels so amazing.
But here’s a huge difference between being in joy and attracting others who are in joy, too and then spending time together, which feels awesome, and having to share an experience with others and needing them to agree with our choices in order to enjoy ourselves, which is really all about insecurity and validation.
Give yourself permission to like what you like (and conversely, to not like what you don’t like.) You don’t need to justify your opinions or preferences. You don’t need to be able to explain them. Joy and pleasure are not intellectual experiences, they’re emotional ones. You can appreciate something for no reason at all. When you do dissect why you like something, do it in order to enhance the experience, NOT because you need to get validation for your choice (and it may take you some time to figure out which one you’re doing). And in doing so, you’ll take a huge, giant, bouncy leap towards becoming a truly secure happy shiny puppy.