A young man said to me in a mental health appointment a few days ago that (after he emerged from a long period of depression), he knows he needs to reconnect with some friends, get out of the house, find a new job, and get his life back on track, but he doesn’t want to do any of it. And then he looked at me, and he made a peculiar remark: “It must be easy for you to get up and go to work every day. You like your job.”
Well I do like my job, but I don’t think anyone bounces out of bed and off into the world day after day, year after year, without encountering times when doing so is difficult. I told him so.
If that’s true, he asked me, “Why does anyone do it?”
What makes any of us roll out of bed every day? Or call a friend or family member, despite feeling tired from a long day? Why do we overcome our feelings in a given moment and do what is important, or promised, or valued over what is fun or easy? For a young person starting out, or someone trying to bounce back from depression, the answer to a question like this may not be intuitive or obvious.
Feelings are only a small part of the equation.
Most people would agree that getting ready to go to work every day involves some measure of dread. “I loathe the commute to the office.” “I’m worried I’ll never catch up on my paperwork.” “It’s been a long week, and I just wish I could sleep late today.” However, in the presence of such feelings, most people move forward anyway. Doing the thing that is right, or important, supersedes the emotion. We do it anyway.
Once we get going, the feelings might change.
In transit to the office, commuters might find that the drive is not as stressful as anticipated. Maybe the morning talk show on the radio draws us in, or the blue sky is clear and beautiful. Maybe we misjudged the unpleasantness of the transition, and getting to where we were going wasn’t so unpleasant after all. Maybe starting a conversation with a friend is rewarding and positive in ways we hadn’t anticipated before dialing the phone.
What about the bigger picture ?
When it comes to maintaining relationships, or getting to work, many of us don’t just participate because it’s easy and fun in the moment, often there’s a larger context. Maybe we return a call to a friend who is grieving because she needs support (not because it’s an enjoyable call). Maybe we go to work because someone relies on us to be there, or because we need money to pay rent. Not every task begins with an overwhelming enthusiasm for the activity itself; sometimes there’s a larger context driving our motivations.
Sometimes it’s just about moral values.
Some days people accomplish things because we believe the tasks are the right things to do. We straighten our living spaces out of consideration for family members or roommates who share them. We fulfill our contracts because we gave our word to do so. We perform our roles because we see ourselves as part of a larger community, contributing for the benefit of others, not just ourselves. We strive toward important goals to accomplish them for the betterment of our communities. We do many things because we believe those are simply the right things to do, based on our moral values relevant to the situations we face.