There are good kinds of pain and pleasure, as well as bad kinds, and very bad forms too. The good kinds of feelings are the ones that help you to become a healthier, saner, more helpful person, the bad ones lead you into problems that make you sicker, crazier and into a destructive person; and the really bad ones are associated with injuries resulting in unconsciousness, catatonic stupor from total emotional failure, and raw aggression. These things are obvious, but they are never associated with learned behavior, even though there is a large dollop of learning associated with them. It is the habits that we choose to learn and cultivate that bring us to become whoever we are. Like Abe Lincoln said, “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.” What’s behind the face is a lifetime of habit creation, and that is under control of the person’s will; thus in the long run we create our faces.
My theory of emotional development requires a person to be in an emotionally positive state that permits and encourages seeking out options and exploring the most promising ones. Thus a person can grow from a child to an adolescent, then to an adult and beyond by somehow getting into a positive frame of mind and exploring the alternate forms of behavior that are available. For an adolescent growth means to intentionally get into an enthusiastic frame of mind of positive self-worth, and then to intentionally seek out adult activities that would be selfless and intentionally helpful to his personal acquisition of goods and personal accomplishment. These are activities that we might label work, because they are things that he could be paid to do, under some common circumstances. An adolescent might improve his self-esteem by saying self-affirmations into a mirror, but no one is going to pay him for this as a job. They would pay him for mowing their lawn, and this is an activity that he can choose to do when feeling emotionally elevated, and then maintain that good feeling about himself while performing these work-like tasks. He might be mowing his own lawn while feeling this elevated way, but it is potentially a paid bit of work.
This same job, of mowing the lawn, could and generally would be thought of by an adolescent as an unpleasant task that he is being compelled to do as a punishment. An adult would be enjoying the improvements to himself and his family. An even more mature person could be mowing the lawn as an act of community improvement, even though it didn’t improve his family’s well-being, nor did it fulfill a duty put upon him.
An even more painful state is that of people driven into abject failure. It is an emotional place where nothing works, and they retreat into a catatonic state – hidden in their bedroom, sometimes deep under their bed covers, with their head under a pillow.
Montaigne said that “virtue, if energetic, never turns its back under any circumstances; it seeks out evils and pain for nourishment.” This is the attitude of a mature personality and of one who can use pain and the threat of failure to energize themselves to greater efforts. This kind of pain is the polar opposite of the catatonic pain which has given up on life and is cowering.
Both pain and pleasure can help you grow, or they can destroy you.