I think that good and bad are not on the same continuum. I think that the good events and the bad events which make up a life do not sum together resulting in a certain level of happiness as a consequence.
You may count your blessings on reflection and assess the good to have measured up well against the bad. But I don’t think that is how it works. I suspect that the dynamics of good and bad each work on the mind independently.
It would be possible to have had a fortuitous life but for a certain bad event, a traumatic episode say, to have had a disproportionate effect. The effect might be debilitating and long-lasting. It might morph into depression which can be defined essentially as grief that stays around too long. In such a case the amount of positive stuff, the number of blessings that can be counted, may add little benefit to mental health.
Consider the following:
• that misery is more contagious than happiness.
• that melancholy can make the contented miserable but the reverse is less likely.
• that happiness is fleeting whereas unhappiness lingers.
• that bad stuff seems much more powerful than the good.
• that it is easier to destroy than it is to create.
From these simple truths it seems that the good and the bad are different species and distinct from each other in how they work on the mind. One does not necessarily counter-balance the other. Actually the good is at a disadvantage and has the odds stacked against it. Its effects are not as durable. If anything it may be adversity which helps build emotional immunity. At least it might help develop the skills with which to deal with trying circumstances.
It is only with perspective that the good and bad might be seen as being on a continuum. Employing perspective is a worthwhile intellectual exercise with possible therapeutic value. But however good it may look on paper it is mainly a useful tool. The consequence of adversity having deeper emotional resonance exerts a more powerful influence on the psyche than the intellect can manage. Other than for Zen masters perspective is usually not sufficient for the re-mapping of neural pathways. That is why self-help books don’t help much after they are put away. It is why cognitive behaviour therapies often don’t yield long term results.
blessings don't always count
commentary • 04.01.11