Why Nonsense and Choosing the Wrong Thing Can’t be Ignored

The-Kummakivi-Balancing-Rock

Not everything can be explained easily. Some things just are. (Image/Ancient-origins.net)

“Feelings don’t matter.

I don’t think anyone currently or formerly close to me would accuse me of heartlessness, but I’ve also been known—especially when it was convenient for my argument—to reduce human emotion to some bullshit little thing that weak people allow to control them.

Maybe all but the most empathetic members of humanity think and do this too.

Feelings Don’t Matter isn’t such a bad life mantra.

I’m strongly anti-divorce, and I consider it tragic that millions of people think and feel Love for one another and publicly promise to do so forever, only to take it all back and break their relationships, homes and families a few years later because they don’t “feel” it anymore.

I’ve written about hedonic adaptation a bunch of times because I believe it’s such a strong contributor to the world’s divorce and crappy-relationship problem, and I don’t think very many people are aware of it or talk enough about it.

Because you’re a human being, you very naturally (not because something is wrong with you) become less emotionally responsive to good things in your life as your brain adjusts to them.

New songs. New houses. New cars. New pay raises. New clothes. New jobs. New dating relationships.

These things make us FEEL good. Very good. They make us feel excited. A tidal wave of emotional motivation to invest your time, your money, and your mental and emotional energy into this awesome new positive thing in your life.

But you get used to them. They become routine. Ordinary. And all the sudden they don’t trigger those same feelings of excitement in you.

Call it the Universe’s way of keeping us motivated. The cave-people had everything they needed once they discovered fire. Between that and their stone tools, life improved about a gazillion percent.

Instead of calling it a day and spending the rest of human history spearing fish and roasting woodland creatures over an open fire, people kept pursuing more.

I like movies, football, video games, vacations, automobiles, typing keyboards, the internet and life expectancies beyond our twenties. So I’m glad we didn’t stop at fire.

Of course, the downside is that awesome things seem less awesome once I get used to them.

I don’t wake up every day with the intention of being an ungrateful douchebag, but inevitably, I say or think things that only ungrateful douchebags say and think. I forget that I have electricity, modern health care, sanitary water, the use of my arms and legs, massive HD televisions, etc. I forget that other people watch their children die because of mosquito bites and literally don’t know where their next meal will come from.

I forget that every day.

Hedonic adaptation is why. I’m used to houses, cars, modern conveniences, and even a few luxuries. My Wi-Fi was out a few weekends ago.

I couldn’t play PUBG on Xbox for like, a day, and you would have thought the world had ended.

Asshole.

I even called AT&T’s internet people twice, and I hate being on the phone with customer service people.

It occurs to me that—in that moment—my feelings mattered.

Whether I’m evaluating my old sins or new ones, I think I’m the dumbest smart person I know.

Dismissing Emotion is Stupid, Hypocritical and Will Probably Ruin Your Relationships

I thought I was so fucking smart back when I was telling my wife how silly she was to let her emotions control her like that.

I think through things. Some would say I overthink. And after dissecting and closely inspecting the idea of letting emotions drive human behavior, I concluded how foolish it was.

Because how I feel can change in an instant.

Good news makes me happy.

Bad news makes me mad or sad.

Sometimes my fourth-grader acts like a little penis-face and I get angry with him, but then I’ll drop him off at school knowing I won’t see him for a couple of days and totally melt—all traces of anger and frustration gone.

I concluded MANY years ago that if I simply did what I “felt” like all the time, I would:

  • Lack money because I probably wouldn’t show up regularly for work.
  • Have a morally questionable and unhealthy sex life.
  • Be a shitty father.
  • Likely be in prison for vehicular homicide because other drivers are assholes and deserved it.

You get it.

We shouldn’t let such fickle and constantly changing things drive our decisions, should we?

LeBron James (local hero here in Ohio) at age 33, and Tom Brady (non-local hero playing professional football in Massachusetts) at age 40, spend ungodly amounts of money on their bodies in the form of personal chefs, expensive disciplined diets, and expensive disciplined workout regimens which have both of them setting new standards for player performance in their respective sports after playing as many games as each of them have.

Their longevity—true or not—is largely linked to their disciplined lifestyle choices.

They make good choices, then good things happen.

I think most of us fundamentally understand that when we make “good,” disciplined, responsible choices, the results are positive.

When you sacrifice financially in the present to save money, you can often retire comfortably.

When you sacrifice nightlife to get plenty of sleep, you often go through the day feeling better than when sleep-deprived.

When you sacrifice physical excursion in order to be physically fit, you tend to look better, feel better, and improve your overall quality of life.

Basically, all of life is this way. Good choices = good results. Bad choices = bad results.

Some people make bad choices because they don’t know any better.

But most of us? Most of us who make bad choices do so despite knowing better.

We choose the cheeseburger over the salad. The milkshake over the tea. The snooze button over the work. The alcohol over harsh reality. The orgasm over all kinds of different life-enhancing alternatives depending on your relationship status and/or the methods for doing so.

Conclusion: No matter how much the calculated analysis, thoughtful logic, or macho tough-guy “wisdom” might dissuade us from making—or even respecting—emotion-driven decisions, the TRUTH of life is that shit’s going to go down in the hearts and minds of pretty much everyone we know, and they’re going to want and need certain things for reasons we may or may not understand.

And if those people going through these things happen to be people who agreed years ago to be our adult partners and are now feeling constantly disrespected and fucked with by our apparent lack of concern for the things they care about, they’re highly likely to make choices one way or another that end with them not being our adult partners anymore.

Maybe they’ll even go poach an egg.

Sure, feelings are bullshit.

Sure, feelings are fleeting. Neither we nor they will feel like this next week or next month. Maybe neither of us will even remember this five years from now.

Sure, we shouldn’t let something fickle and fleeting guide our decisions. But since when did people do what they are SUPPOSED to?!

Life isn’t a predictable math equation like some of us might like it to be.

Life is not If This, Then That, with any of us having a clue what “That” may turn out to be.

Today—right now—some shit that won’t matter to anyone in five years is the most important thing imaginable to someone you care about.

And just maybe if you treat that thing as important BECAUSE you care about the person, something magical will happen.

Or, perhaps at minimum, something horrible won’t.

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17 thoughts on “Why Nonsense and Choosing the Wrong Thing Can’t be Ignored

  1. Amen, Matt. Feelings matter. Feelings are not just this disembodied thing unrelated to anything else. Feelings are connected to thoughts and actions, they are a valuable tool for processing data in our world.

    It’s a real tragedy in the world, many men cook their own goose, by being contemptuous of feelings, especially women’s feelings. Flat out, if we have feelings for you, you’re in our life, if we don’t, you’re out. In general, men have more of tendency to want to appeal to some sense honor, duty, reason. Those are valuable things in the world, but for most women, love is not about logic, honor, and reason. If our choices we’re based exclusively on logic, rather than crazy sacrificial love-feelings, we’d probably kick all our husbands to the curb and abandon half our children, certainly our rebellious and obnoxious teen agers.

    You want to really build loyalty, to win her affections, address her feelings. As I say so often,women don’t have to be right, we just have to be heard.

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  2. Abby says:

    Hi Matt. I have read everything you have ever posted here, and some things more than once, and I’m a big fan. However, I’m a little troubled when you cite “hedonic adaptation” as a reason why happy relationships can fall apart (or at least become more difficult). I find it pretty objectifying to compare a living breathing person to things that exist solely for your pleasure and convenience, things that we become adapted to. I think it’s more accurate to describe it this way: in the beginning of a relationship, the sole purpose of your partner is your entertainment and pleasure, and this will make you overlook things like character defects and incompatibility. But eventually, these things will be harder and harder to ignore, and you will have to accept them and work around them in order for the relationship to continue. This is not hedonic adaptation! This is a normal part of being in a relationship.

    By labeling this phenomenon “hedonic adaptation”, you are saying that this is inevitable – it will happen no matter who you date. But I don’t think this is true. I think more time and energy needs to be spent making sure you pick the right person – with character defects and flaw, tastes and tendencies that match your own.

    I am so moved by a story you told in one of your early posts – about the day you wanted to watch the Masters, while your wife wanted to spend the day outside. Imagine if you had married someone who wanted to watch golf as much as you did… or the girl who didn’t care about a dirty dish by the sink… someone that was so easy to empathize with because you were so similar in so many ways. Too often in dating and relationships, we pick people for superficial reasons, and then struggle to force them into the mold of the partner we want and need. What we should do is be more honest and investigative up front, and pick a partner with the highest level of compatibility

    Liked by 2 people

    • gottmanfan says:

      I agree that hedonic adaptation is a concept better used for things then people though the general idea is useful. The similarities have to do with how our brains work. After we get through the learning, novelty phase our brain shifts into procedural memory.

      It’s normal now to know how to drive, or expect wi-fi or to think we know our partners. It’s procedural memories that when x happens my spouse will do y, or when I say a, my partner says b. The more the patterns are repeated the more procedural it becomes.

      The problem imho is less about the lack of positivity i.e. hedonic responses than it is that it is all automated. We no longer consider what to say we just react from memory of a pattern.

      And as humans, since we have a negativity bias, we react often negatively to protect ourselves. Not considering how that affects our spouse.

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    • gottmanfan says:

      I agree we should seek out people who share similar goals, complementary personality traits etc.

      I think though that similarities matter less than good relationship skills to know how to deal with inevitable differences.

      We all change a lot over different life experiences and over decades.

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    • Matt says:

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot, Abby. I didn’t want to respond until I was at least certain of my beliefs (which could totally be wrong).

      I think I’m going to write about it today in article format. (I’ve been struggling to find writing inspiration, so anything I think about this much needs to be taken advantage of!)

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  3. somecallmejack says:

    “What we should do is be more honest and investigative up front, and pick a partner with the highest level of compatibility”

    True that…but that requires consciousness…and some of us (ahem) take years to get even into the area code of consciousness…and then only because we’re in the crucible of a relationship.

    So many magic wands I wish I could have waved over my children – but consciousness would have been the first, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Louie says:

    My particular view confronts the fallout of a fallout and the road to reconciliation and understanding. Perhaps the whole hedonic adaptation piece is at the crux of the complacency that breeds greater longing on the part of one or both partners. But what differentiates the successful couple from the ones in perpetual martial discourse. Not having the full answer I can only speculate that the successful ” pull their heads out of their asses” and realize that there is simply common respect and getting to know your mate’s do’s don’t’s boundaries and deal breakers. I truly believe that in the midst of a couples’ journey a stepping back and review of the relationship dynamic has to take place regularly. I view it much like the check engine light on my car. I can head to the mechanic and head off the pending problem or take my chances that it’s something minor or can actually wait. I have been that guy on the New York State Thruway causing traffic flow problems because I put off taking care of something seemingly minor. The consequences are usually greater than the intervention. then given the hedonic adaptation piece, what gamble does one take jumping into foreign territory, say seeking newness in an affair or leaving one relationship for another only to find the psycho-emotional euphoria “fix” only lasts for a short period of time before the recentering of complacency emerges. Back to square one. Seemingly the best answer lies , for both men and women in relationships, to actively participate in their own marriages unions whatever and with all musterable respect and conjoined empathy and communication with one another to get resolution which may be just simply talking more. Weekly date nights or hand in hand walks around your neighborhood are incredibly powerful tools. Blessings to you all

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think it was the post modern Era, and “The age of skepticism” that elevated the intellect over emotion…and we’re still stuck there.
    I think it’s a mistake to put the two in opposition of each other.
    Emotions rise at different times, but there is usually a pattern. Emotions color the way we view the world, and very much inform the intellect.
    Emotions are the real game changers in our lives- they are what motivates us and make things meaningful in our lives. They are an essential part of being a human.
    I don’t think, and I hope I’m right, that we have to choose an intellectual “what’s right” over an emotional “what’s right.”
    It’s really a matter of understanding our emotions and the information they are providing…sometimes there does need to be a choice over the emotional want of the moment and the long term want/desire.
    But they are both emotionally driven. Our intellect just helps us figure out how to get there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gottmanfan says:

      Here is Stan Tatkin information about the automatic brain I was talking about.

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    • gottmanfan says:

      “But I have good and bad news for you. First the bad first. The beautiful, fascinating, mysterious new thing that you are will be automated by my brain very soon. And your brain will automate me soon, too. When that happens, we will become familiar, and our novelty-seeking brains will no longer pay each other so much attention. Instead, we will draw from our vast reservoir of memories and experiences to do our daily business.

      What is potentially bad news about this is that we think we know each other, but we don’t really. So we will make mistakes. We’ll operate from memory, which does not require presence, attention, error correction, and the other fancy things our brain does when faced with newness. For example, my brain will automatically see you as if you were my ex-wife or my mother or my father, and base its reactions on those memories.”

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  6. gottmanfan says:

    I think your post is right in many ways.

    Absolutely, what you call hedonic adaption and what I’m calling the automatic brain process causes a lot of problems in marriages.

    It makes us go on autopilot and screw things up regularly.

    And, of course, I agree that we often make feel good short term decisions without considering the long term effect.

    The thing I never quite get is why some people think “emotions” are just alien to them and not useful.

    Everyone is full of emotions. Men have lots of emotions. Some of which they employ as they deny they have them.

    Emotions are needed to make good decisions. You can’t make good decisions on thoughts alone. I’m too lazy right now but I know there is brain research to show this.

    You’re absolutely right the way to get around that is to stay engaged and make conscious decisions.

    Hard to do of course for reasons discussed in other posts.

    Really, what is with the need to disavow emotions in our culture? Or conversely to put too much emphasis on emotions vs good thinking in other cases.

    Need to balance and value our emotions and our thinking. Otherwise you screw things up even more.

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  7. Louie says:

    Hi again . ..hope you all had a happy Easter and Passover . My thoughts are not intended to insult or be disrespectful to anyone’s feelings , situations , beliefs or whatever . But the way I see it many need to grow up and face the reality of our lives . We sign up for better or worse and for far too many when feeling lonely , unappreciated , disrespected a miswired solution ensues . Rather than finding a commonality that brought us together in the first place we are ,in some ways , driven in a childlike fashion to seek newness elsewhere . Like getting tired of an old video game or longing for the hot new toy or bicycle . The husband who feels he’s not getting “it” enough at home but finds no way to ease his wife’s daily struggle as a true partner should so that “it” can be on her radar ., finds temporary gratification in the sexy coworker. The wife who puts her financial goals squarely on her husband’s shoulders complains that he spent too much time working and her need for attention drove her to step out. More tamely the couple that merely coexist in a miserable state and never look at how their lives together could really be wonderful . That no one ever tries to fight old beliefs like ” familiarity breeds contempt ” or “I’m set in my ways” allows misery to be their norm.. Newness needs to be an ever evolving part of any relationship but with both parties understanding it’s worth to the other . It’s a simple effort . I have no use for the thought that it is what it is. Right now Anne and I are embarking on one of the greatest struggles of our soon to be 34 years together . There are a lot of scary things coming our way . We are undaunted in our fight to be victorious . Every day we are being challenged but in those challenges we are finding new ways to be close to feel better connection to know exactly how much we love one another to experience something better about each other . We can wallow in all the psycho babble of today or we can genuinely “show up ” in our own lives and relationships . I’m sick to death of hearing people who are complaining about the state of their marriages but do nothing different to change the way it is. If divorce is the answer then so be it but when you walk away be able to feel it was the right thing to do have no “buyer’s remorse ” know you did everything thing you could to earn the divorce . You never want a bunch of “what ifs” chasing you and worse you don’t want a broken hearted teenager say to you ” mom/dad why didn’t you fight for us” and not have an answer . And if you don’t pull the plug are you sure that a future you won’t have major depression and feel short changed . Anne and I have to travel across the country for her first treatment , she is a nervous wreck , I am too. I had to retire early to get the money to pay for the experimental treatment as they are not covered by medical insurance . . I don’t care we are standing toe toe as we should be . We are trying to make this an adventure . We love like that

    Liked by 1 person

    • gottmanfan says:

      Louie,

      You are so right about having to focus our energy and attention and do the hard work of relationships.

      I can’t imagine how scary it is to go through cross country treatments for your beloved Anne. You are facing it together which is just so beautiful.

      Sending prayers for your wife’s health.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Louie says:

        Thank you Lisa….this is all out war! We are determined to win this…our daughter is getting married this October which is between treatments. Matt once described this type of love as the gritty kind…so true. We’re from a town steeped in tradition…military…sports…revolutionary war exploits…hell the guy that wrote the pledge of allegiance was from here. We are proud fighters. We know who’s team we’re on. So all I can say is be steadfast and true to your loved ones…your honor…your character… your self and do so with courage. Blessings and thanks again from us in Rome

        Liked by 1 person

  8. […] written in many posts, including my most recent from last week, that I believe hedonic adaptation is a major contributor to relationship […]

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  9. Rachel Baldes says:

    I found your blog over a year ago during one of my all night googling sessions searching for something or someone to help me get some help/perspective about the ongoing crisis my marriage had become. I read an article and it resonated, then another, then all of them.
    I shared them with my husband. The lying pornography addict who never had sex with me, even when I got tarted up to the max and basically mauled him. Our situation hasn’t improved really and I’m realizing that the pornography was more of a symptom than the problem. I think he’s got schizoid personality traits that would explain his behaviors and responses better. I’m not sure if I can get on board with the hedonistic adaption cause of behavior with you. Maybe it’s just my situation is not capable of being explained by it. I don’t know.

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