There’s a catchy country tune that topped the charts not long ago that sung about people following their arrow wherever it points. It talks about doing whatever you want because you only live once, and to let your feelings guide you. The song won awards and I’m guessing for good reason, because people like what it says.
The ‘follow your arrow’, ‘you do you’, and YOLO (you only live once) philosophy heralds living for self and chasing after whatever makes us happy. What’s to hate? I like freedom, I like being true to myself, and I like being happy. There’s nothing wrong with living authentically; however, the method of pursuit matters.
On the surface, this philosophy promises a lot. One could guess this type of ‘freedom’ would cause an outbreak of happiness. So why isn’t it? Over the last decade depression and anxiety are on the rise, especially among young adults. Suicide rates are climbing, as are mental illness trends. Given longitudinal research on the topic, I’m going to say that on whole, society is not happier.
The fallacy in ‘following your arrow’ is that it is focused on making decisions based on emotions, often without the balance of logic and reason. As well, there’s aimlessness in always living in the moment that often results in just feeling lost. In reality, we may end up following our arrows right off an emotional cliff. I like the idea of pursuing my happiness arrow, but again, the method of pursuit matters.
Balancing the brain
Straight up, our feelings will lie to us. Feelings are experiences, they are not always logical, and they do not have meaning on their own until we assign meaning to them. Don’t get me wrong, emotions are important in telling us something is off balance and needs attention, but making decisions based on emotions is risky because they change. We need to engage the other side of our brain, the thinking brain, to gain perspective and challenge the validity of our rationale. I’ve known people who have left jobs, colleges, marriages, etc because they didn’t feel ‘happy’.
They followed their arrow to other pastures thinking their condition would improve. Some did; others had incredible remorse. For those, maybe their emotions were signaling that something was wrong, but with work, perseverance, and perspective it could become right again. Chasing emotions in random directions doesn’t allow that process to happen, which can seriously send us in the wrong direction.
I’ve been spared from more than one disastrous follow-my-arrow decision in my life. I insisted on letting my emotions guide me instead of triangulating feelings with my logical brain and spirit. These are the other facets of our minds that keep us from being held hostage by our emotional brain. When feelings are all over the place, it’s important to ground them with what you know to be true and unchanging. This kind of moral compass can keep our emotional arrows from flying all over the place with no sense of direction or larger purpose.
Sometimes we have to push past feelings to seek what is real about a situation and allow personal growth a chance to happen. People often make sense of their lives by how they feel, and less by who they are. As such, they often run from hard emotions and challenges that are needed to teach character, resiliency, and identity. There has been a short-circuiting of self-discovery because few people are willing to be grounded and taught by life’s challenges.
When life gets shaky, we can’t just grab on to the next arrow pointing to the side exit. Confidence, self-esteem, and perseverance grows (and anxiety shrinks) when we stay the course and work through it, even when our emotions are telling us to bail.
There’s more than just this
The ‘follow your arrow’ philosophy puts a lot of burden on us to figure out where true happiness and fulfillment dwells. Frankly, I don’t want to follow my arrow. I want to follow God’s arrow. He knows what I don’t know, and He’s got the plan for my life. “Acknowledge Me in all your ways and I will make your path straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
God is a much better tour guide than me, and He knows what I need to be filled body, heart, soul, mind, and spirit. This is where true freedom lives, not in an emotion-chase that jumps from one temporary satisfaction to the next. My existence is much more than my temporary happiness on this earth, which when harnessed, goes a long way to remove fear and hopelessness about the future.
Following His precepts above my own creates order, purpose, peace, and freedom that lead to something even better than happiness: joy. That’s the life direction that never disappoints, and never leads astray.
I’m all about carpe diem, but I do recognize our feelings’ limitations in figuring out what that means. When contemplating a life choice or major decision, our emotions, logic, and morals should all line up. That’s a big indicator that our arrow is pointing in the right direction. There’s a lot to be said for trusting our instincts, but if our instincts are right there should also be a sound argument to hold it up.
People are not always objective when heavy emotions are in play, so it can be really useful to bounce ideas and feelings off of others who can be objective. If this is you, we can be those people. You can find us at (225) 341-4147.