This is the first of three blogs regarding the phenomenon of “good for me” and “bad for me” that I have used for many years as I have attempted to help people know when something is, quite simply good for them or bad for them. In this blog I will propose the basic concept of how to know when something is good or bad for you as well as the variations of “good” and “bad.” Like many other significant psychological terms, these expressions do not lend themselves to exact definitions, which is to suggest that we cannot fully define “good” or “bad.”
The fact that we cannot exactly define “good” or “bad” does not take away from the value of using these terms. It is noteworthy that several other very significant psychological terms do not have exact definitions, like love, truth, feelings, and understanding. Nor do we have exact definitions for the three basic ingredients of the known universe: time, space, and mass. We understand these important aspects of the universe, as well as the elements of psychology by seeing the effects of such things. Furthermore, we can quantify such things as time, space, and mass even though we do not define them. Likewise, we can quantify love by noting how much we love something, and we can quantify truth as well from somewhat true to entirely true. Feelings do not lend themselves to quantification but we can see the effects of feelings as we have discussed at length in previous blogs and in our recently published book, I Need to Tell You How I Feel. In the present discussion we will study the quantification of “good for me” and “bad for me.” We will discuss the effects of good or bad in the forthcoming blogs.
Quantification of “good for me” and “bad for me”
Allow me to first discuss the quantification of “good for me/bad for me” by suggesting a continuum, or spectrum, with “good for me” on one side and “bad for me””
Bad for me Good for me
(very bad) (not so bad) (pretty good) (very good)
My suggestion with this proposal is that there is a spectrum that ranges from very bad for me to very good for me. Before I elaborate more about this spectrum, I should explain what can be good for me or bad for me. Pretty much anything can be good for me or bad for me. For instance, some foods may be good for me or bad for me. Likewise, some life situations can be good or bad for me, like work, relationships, geographical locations, or insertions into my life. Insertions include the finding of $10 bill on the street to a dog barking loudly while you walk by a house, but the more significant and lasting the “insertion,” the more significant the effect on you. If you find a $100 bill, it would be really good for you, or if the dog bit you on the leg, it would be really bad for you. Additionally, something that someone says too you might be good for you or bad for you, or in more extreme circumstances, a person him/herself at tone time might be good for you or bad for you. So, as we continue to discuss this “good for me” and “bad for me,” consider that anything, human or otherwise, living or nonliving, real or imaginary could be good for me or bad for me.
Having proposed that there is a spectrum of “good for me” and “bad for me,” allow me to elaborate about this continuum and suggest a number of terms that might serve as indicators of the strength of “good” or “bad” for me. We might have relatively mild experiences of “good for me” or “bad for me”, i.e.:
Aversive Unpleasant Uninteresting / Interesting Pleasant Exciting
We might also have things that are more extremely good or bad for me, and find the use of stronger terms valuable, i.e.:
Lethal Toxic Dangerous / Enlivening Life-enhancing Life-sustaining
Putting these terms together we have a continuum on the “bad for me” side ranging from something that is mildly “not good”, i.e. uninteresting, to something that is lethal, meaning something might kill me. Likewise, on the “good” side of the continuum the range is from interesting to life-sustaining, meaning that I can’t do without it.
I have found it helpful to assist people to know how to quantify things and people in their lives using this continuum starting with the simple “good for me” things be asking them what people, places, ideas, and situations are good for them, and then to help people note relatively good these things are. Then I follow by assisting people to similarly identify things that are bad for them along the negative side of the continuum. I have found that while it is hard for people to describe exactly how good or bad something is for them, they can approximate the good or bad somewhere on the continuum. The idea of a continuum, or spectrum, of good or bad rather than an absolute good or bad is helpful for people to see how things adversely affect them or enhance them in life.
Quantification: a sign of emotional maturity
While many people find it valuable to see a continuum from extremely good to extremely bad for them, some people are not willing or able to make these distinctions. Such people often use the extreme terms for everything, namely “dangerous” or “lethal” on the bad side or somehow necessary on the good side. People who regularly use such extreme terms often talk more than do, by which I mean they complain a lot of things but do nothing to get out of situations that are not good for them, or they dream about things that they think would be good for them but do nothing to fulfill those dreams. I find that such people have simply not matured in life sufficiently to see that very few things are truly life-sustaining or lethal, but many things are simply interesting or uninteresting. These people are stuck in their helplessness or stuck in their dreams. They have not matured beyond a childlike view of life that they should have everything they want without work or that they are helpless to do anything to enhance their lives. Extremes of any sort are the natural stuff of childhood but not of maturity. As people mature in their understanding of life, they tend to use less extreme terms leaving such terminology for very few cases. When people mature in this way, they are better able to make adjustments in life.
There are at least three elements of maturing in the business of enhancing life with what is good and reducing elements that are dangerous: (1) thinking and feeling to yourself about such things, (2) speaking to someone else, and (3) doing something. People tend to skip item (1), thinking and feeling, and go right to item (2), talking to someone or item (3), doing something. But it is important to first think and feel before talking or doing. If I talk to someone right away or take action right away without first truly knowing how I feel and think, I will not find it profitable and productive because my personal thoughts and feelings will not be the foundation of what I might ultimately do.
You might consider the many other situations that occur in life, like an intimate relationship that is good for you, and then think of how you might enhance the relationship rather than taking the good person in your life for granted. Likewise, you might consider how you might make an adjustment to a relationship that is less than good for you rather than taking leave of the person who might just be uninteresting to you in some way. You could also examine what you eat or drink, what you do for recreation, or what color you would like to see on your house. In fact, if you can examine the less important things in your life, like what you eat or what color you have on your house, you might be better able to honestly examine the more important things in your life, like your relationships, your work, your geographical location, or something that is truly sacred in your life.
You might consider talking to someone about your “good for you” feelings and “bad for you” feelings once you have studied your feelings for yourself. There are equal dangers of keeping your feelings entirely to yourself, which tends to be a tendency of introverted-thinking people, or constantly talking about your feelings that frequently occurs with extraverted-feeling people. If you can be honest with yourself about what is good for you and what is bad for you, you will be in a better position to profit from talking to someone else. After thoughtful self-examination of the goods and the bads of something in your life, and then talking to someone about those feelings, mature people do something.
Sometimes the “doing” doesn’t actually look like doing because the person decides that the best course of action is to stay the course. Equally possible, is the need to actually do something about your life, particularly when you find yourself on the “bad for me” side of the spectrum. People tend to jump to action too soon or avoid any kind of action for fear of loss. In the long run, when a mature person has come to a decision to take action or not, there is always sadness involved in the action. For instance, it might be sad to give up alcohol if you decide that it is largely bad for you, or you might be sad if you decide to keep drinking because the loss of alcohol in your life is worse than then ill effects of alcohol. You will be sad staying with someone who is not always good for you and you will be sad leaving such a person.
The universal experience of feeling sad when you have actually done something is important to understand as we have written in The Positive Power of Sadness. People often avoid doing something because they simply don’t want to experience the sadness of losing something. They would rather live in the fantasy that they can have it both ways, like living happily with a person who you find “not good for you” occasionally and simultaneously leaving such a person without any regret of having lost an intimate partner. You can only do this in fantasy, not reality. To honestly stay or leave, and then profit from the staying or leaving, you have to look at the effects of staying or leaving.
In the next two blogs, where I will discuss the effects of something that is good for you or bad for you and how to take action with such things. Consider what might be in each category:
- Good for you could be person, place, property, experience, or idea
- Bad for you could be person, place, property, experience or idea