I think a very strong indication of where you are at in your life, growth, and well-being has to do with whether you are primarily making positive or negative decisions. We humans will move away from and avoid pain and we will move towards and seek pleasure. That’s the way we work.
You might decide not to touch a hot stove to avoid pain while you might choose to touch your partner to achieve pleasure. The first is a negative decision and the second is a positive decision. There is huge difference between negative and positive decisions. Which of the following are better life situations?
You have three job offers that all seem great and your dilemma is deciding which one is the best. Or you have three job offers that will pay the bills but you’re not really excited about any of them. You’re trying to figure out which one is the “best” (least worst).
You have offers from two different friends on a way to spend your Friday evening. You can’t decide because they are both so exciting. Or you have two offers from different friends on a way to spend your Friday evening and you are trying to figure out how to decline both because neither of them interest you.
The difference between the lives of people who are primarily making positive decisions (choosing pleasure) and those who are making negative decisions (avoiding pain) is the like the difference between night and day. The former is a thriving life and the latter is merely a surviving life.
If your decisions are mostly about avoiding or reducing pain instead of increasing pleasure, then you are definitely not where you want and need to be. Maximizing positive decisions is something I intend to be very conscious about in the future. I’m not suggesting we can ever eliminate negative decisions from our lives. It’s impossible. I do think, however, that most people spend most of their lives making negative decisions, while a life of primarily positive decisions is very possible.
Even people who think they make positive decisions probably are not actually doing so much of the time. When you compromise with your partner to get along you are actually making a negative decision. You are avoiding the pain of conflict. People don’t realize how many negative decision they make all day every day. It’s that chronic background noise that’s always there. It’s what everyone expects. That’s just life. Maybe so, but I have become convinced that it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t think people are aware of this noise because it seems so normal.
When you are out in public with your children and they are acting up you are faced with multiple negative choices. 1) Do nothing and suffer (and force others to suffer with you). 2) Discipline your child and risk an escalating public battle. 3) Get out of the situation by leaving.
Once you are in that situation it’s too late. All choices are negative. You are attempting to reduce pain. A much better alternative would be to avoid being in a situation where you are faced with these negative choices. There are ways to greatly minimize those, and yes I raised a daughter and I have been there too!
I’m sure there is a better way. Many years ago I also came to this same conclusion, but somehow I lost focus on it. I fell into what Thoreau called our “lives of quiet desperation”. I’ve decided to put myself back into a life situation where I am primarily making positive choices. How about you?
In future articles I will be discussing ways to do this. It will be around my Living Free theme I introduced a few days ago. I’m considering putting these articles on their own blog, but I haven’t decided yet. What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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