Dancing with the Devil: Why Bad Feelings Make Life Good
Just as a garden needs worms, we need bad feelings....
We tend to think about bad feelings--feelings like anger, envy, spite, and contempt--as the weeds in life's garden. You may not be able to get rid of them completely, but you're supposed to battle them as best you can. The best garden is one with no weeds. The best life is one with no bad feelings. But this isn't quite right, according to philosopher Krista K. Thomason. Bad feelings are the worms, not the weeds. They're just below the surface, and we like to pretend they aren't there, but they serve an important purpose. Worms are just as much a part of the garden as the flowers, and their presence means your garden is thriving. Gardens aren't better off without their worms, and neither are we. The trick is learning how to enjoy our gardens, worms and all.
Thomason draws on insights from the history of philosophy to show what we've gotten wrong about bad feelings and to show readers how we can live better with them. There is nothing wrong with negative emotions per se. Their bad reputation is undeserved. Negative emotions are expressions of self-love--not egoism or selfishness, but the felt attachment to ourselves and to our lives. We feel negative emotions because our lives matter to us. After explaining this, Thomason helps us look at individual bad feelings: anger, envy and jealousy, spite and Schadenfreude, and contempt. As she demonstrates in this tour of negative emotions, these feelings are valuable parts of our attachment to our lives. We don't have to battle negative emotions or "channel" them into something productive. Bad feelings aren't obstacles to a good life; they are part of what makes life meaningful.
About the Author
Krista K. Thomason is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Swarthmore College. In 2021-2022, she was the Philip L. Quinn Fellow at the National Humanities Center. Her areas of expertise include philosophy of emotion, moral philosophy, history of philosophy, and political philosophy. Some of her publications appear in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, European Journal of Philosophy, Kantian Review, and The Monist. She is the author of the book Naked: The Dark Side of Shame and Moral Life, which was published with Oxford University Press in 2018. She has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, and CNN.