I hate umbrellas. Why do I hate them? Well, they don’t shield you from rain coming in from an angle, they fail at shielding you from splashes coming from below, they poke people’s eyes out, they are completely useless in the wind, making you look ridiculous, and more often than not, end up getting destroyed after a rainy and windy day, making them a terrible solution for the problem they’re attempting to solve, which is not getting wet in the rain.
It’s easy to say that you like or dislike something if your reasonings are purely logical. I like or dislike this because of reasons x, y z. You make a logical argument in your brain as to why something is good or not and convince yourself of it. It’s not important whether that argument is correct or not, what matters is that you are convinced that it is.
Can we really call liking, or disliking, as described above, an emotion? Something that is construed from logical statements, as such, seems somewhat odd to call a feeling, yet most people use it in that manner. I really like pocket watches. I would go as far to say that I love pocket watches. What do I love about them? Well, it lets me check the time while I’m on my phone, they don’t constrict my wrist like a normal watch would, and I like the attention I get from people when they notice it. You could delve further into the psychological implications of the last statement, but if you only really care about my emotional attachment to pocket watches, then the buck stops there.
But why does the buck stop there? Why do I like the attention people give me when they notice my pocket watch? — I’ve sat here for five minutes trying to think of a good reason and can’t come up with any. At this point, I can very comfortably say that I like that feeling, simply because it is what I like, and that is that. Again, you can delve into the topic psychologically, perhaps I didn’t get enough attention as a child and feel like I have to compensate, or I got too much and I need to keep up the rhythm. However, at this stage, why I feel the way I feel is of no concern to me, but the fact that attention from people illicits that feeling is what matters. That is true emotion, and everything else that leads up to it (such as the pocket watch itself) is merely a tool to get there.
So why do we like, or dislike certain things? Why do we really like certain sounds, tastes, and feelings? Why do we like, or even love certain people? Could you accurately describe the reasons why you like your significant other?
I’m no biochemist, but at this point, I feel like that is the domain we enter through. For some reason or another, the stimuli that you adore or hate is causing some kind of chemical reaction to take place in your brain, perhaps your entire body. Whatever reactions take place will dictate whether you feel good or bad about whatever just happened, and after enough times of it happening, you will develop some sense of like or dislike towards the given stimuli1.
So what does that say about our different likes and dislikes? Is your love for chocolate equated to simply the chemicals that are released after you eat it? Is your love for a person equated to simply the chemical reactions that take place in your brain when you’re around them? One interesting thing that I’d like to propose is that regardless of what the equation is, you could almost always take the stimuli out of the picture and still be able to sustain the same feeling through other means. In other words, it’s almost as if you have a choice of what you get to like and dislike as long as you are able to manipulate the chemical reactions happening in your brain, or at least trick your brain into thinking something is interesting enough times to develop a liking to it.
An obvious way of doing this would be through drugs. Molly will very easily make you love everything and everyone. A more sustainable approach, though, is consciously taking a deep interest in everything you encounter, and avoid dismissing things simply by what may seem as their boring surface. I’m a firm believer that everything and everyone is interesting as long as you’re willing to dig deep into the people or subject matters.
So where does that leave us? Suppose you do a pretty decent job at employing the above technique. You become very open to new experiences without judgement, and have amassed a generally diverse collection of friends as you try your best not to dismiss anyone simply because they may seem uninteresting at first. You become the person that’s always up for anything, no matter how ridiculous, and you always have a blast while doing things.
So what’s wrong with the picture above? At first glance, nothing. In fact, I’ve lived the majority of my life not seeing anything wrong with this picture. The problem actually comes up when the technique is employed. Rationally, you would only employ it when you’re doing things beyond your control, or perhaps if you’re trying new things voluntarily. But what happens if that becomes your default way of thinking when experiencing new things and meeting new people? Well, you pretty much end up liking everything you do, and everyone you meet.
Don’t see the problem yet? The easiest way to bring it about is by asking a simple question: What’s your favorite song? Got an answer? Then you probably don’t have this problem. There’s just too many songs, and I like all of them. Do you have a favorite restaurant? They’re all great and delicious, I don’t know which one to pick. This “disorder” of sorts surfaces up as simple indecisiveness, however, it can get slightly more complicated when you involve other people in the equation. Do you like Amy? Do you like her because of the technique you employed above, or do you truly like her? Is there a difference? Are you justified in dating Amy if you don’t like her any more than you like Becky, Carol, or any other girl for that matter?
If you become too comfortable with the technique, the problem also manifests itself when you’re given too much freedom. So you have a long break coming up? What are you going to do? You could do absolutely anything. What would you like to do? I don’t know, there’s just too many things that are interesting, I can’t really choose. So what happens? You end up doing nothing. You know that whatever you end up doing you’ll enjoy, so why bother doing anything?
Perhaps the above may not seem like a problem to most people. It’s actually a nice way to stay economical; you don’t have to spend money on any extravagant vacation plans or items. Some might even say that it makes you easily amused, which in general, I consider to be a more positive characteristic than anything. But it also means that you’re doing nothing, and thus, are making zero progress on anything. Maybe that’s fine for some people, but for me, it makes me feel very uneasy.
So what’s the solution then? Just pick something and go? But how do you know that you picked the “right” thing? You like everything else just as much as whatever you picked, so how can you, in all good conscious, decide to do one thing over another? Well, maybe you’ll just know. Maybe there’s that one thing that’ll come around, say art, where you simply thoroughly enjoy. You find yourself enthralled by it with little to no effort, and just like that, you found your niche. But what if you haven’t found it yet? Or worse, what if everything you’ve tried thus far gives you that feeling. Then what? What do you do? Given infinite time, perhaps you could actually become involved in everything, but you don’t, so what do you save you’re precious time for?
Well, certainly not umbrellas, that’s for sure.
- Again, I’m not biochemist, so all of this is pure contemplation on my part. I’d be totally excited about talking to a real biochemist about this though, so if you’re one, and you’d like to chat, drop me an email.