Life Debate: Do What ‘Feels’ Right or What’s ‘Best’ for Us?
A deep struggle most of us don’t seem to see.
I remember in elementary school, after waking up, my mom would prepare breakfast for me — a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk.
I barely touched it.
“Why aren’t you eating?” my mom would ask. I told her I just wasn’t hungry and that if I had to force myself, my stomach would feel queasy.
“But breakfast is healthy. You need food to fuel your brain. Otherwise, how else could you focus and do well in class?”
I stood there for a minute, processing her words at the speed of a snail, trying to decide whether or not I wanted to trust her or my stomach. But before I could say anything, she added, “You know, you’re very lucky to have so many kinds of food to choose from and eat. When I was your age, sometimes we wouldn’t have anything on the table and we would go to school hungry.”
Goddamn it. Why did she have to say that?
I grabbed the bowl and, as much as my stomach coiled, shoved a spoonful of cereal down my throat.
This was about to become my morning ritual for the next 25 years.
…even though it never felt right.
Why did I do this then?
Why did I (continue to) constrain my deepest feelings when I clearly knew it — eating breakfast — would make me miserable?
Wouldn’t it be better to just follow what feels right?
I guess, like most people, it’s hard to know who and what to follow when you aren’t sure who’s/what’s right. If you aren’t sure of yourself, you follow others. If you aren’t sure of others, you follow yourself. It’s a simple principle we’ve blindly and faithfully accepted for thousands and thousands of years, in helping us choose what we believe is the best path towards our well-being (good health, meaningful happiness, better living conditions) and survival.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
Now that we’re in the 21st century, where we’re protected from every threat possible, where we have quick access to any information we need and more time than ever to explore who we can be (think how many skills you can learn off the internet, people you can meet outside your community, faiths you can believe in), I would say it’s much easier to live life our way — without the lecture, preaches and opinions of others.
But do we?
Unfortunately, most of us will never come close to living the life we want, simply because culture has already molded our beliefs and expectations before we even had a chance to discover them.
As kids, we like to follow those with (supposedly) more experience. Parents. Teachers. Those who’ve spent their entire lives studying a particular field. We listen to what is commonly said and acknowledged and live it — often without question.
As adults, it gets worst. We pursue a path of no return, generally a job or a long-term career, that vaguely defines who we are and will be for the rest of our lives. It’s already at this point where we’ve trapped ourselves into this never-ending, fiercely competitive, pursuit for money — commonly known as the ‘rat race’ — leaving us to feel as if there’s no time for anything else. And that’s not good, because whatever we choose to neglect soon makes us vulnerable to the suggestion of others.
So how do we break out of this?
After many years of morning queasiness, I began to question whether eating breakfast was healthy or even necessary, because why would my stomach still feel the way it did? It didn’t make sense; if people say breakfast is healthy, shouldn’t I feel healthy?
Obviously, there was an inconsistency between how they felt and how I felt. And I didn’t want to waste any more of my years trying to see if, one day, I would change.
So instead, I began to look for answers. Not just from one source, but from many: including health discussions on Reddit, people’s morning routines on Youtube, my doctor’s advice and some of the top health sites. I even asked all of my friends what they thought about eating breakfast and why. And what I had discovered pleasantly surprised me.
There was no right answer.
Some people ate breakfast because they needed the energy to work properly in the morning, or to avoid feeling nauseous. Those who didn’t eat preferred to fast, or enjoyed having the extra time to do something else.
This just made me realize that everyone is different; their appetites, their habits, their personal lifestyle — these all determine the choices we make in life. And while this brought me a sense of relief, knowing that I wasn’t just an outlier in society, I felt even better knowing that I had found my own answer.
And I believe that is the key:
If we ever want to know, with full confidence, whether we’re doing the right thing in life, we have to dig hard at the truth. Only then can we realize, there’s no right answer, but an answer that works best for us.