Dr Feelgood’s Prescription


Sometimes being good and feeling good go hand in hand. Sometimes they don’t. Kim Peckham explains.

My three-year-old son makes me think. Sometimes he makes me think, How much should I tip the waiter to deal with this mess? Or he makes me think, How does he break something like that with his bare bands? Of course, there are times when he makes me think, Ah, what an adorable kid! And there are other times when I think, Either this boy really needs a nap, or we should call an exorcist.

But he definitely gave me food for thought when he started making up his own prayers. One of his first prayers was “Dear Jesus, help me to feel good. Amen.
Now, I should point out that this was not a prayer of despair from a heart heavy with the burdens of the world. Did I mention that Reef is three years old? He has no credit card debt. No work stress. No problems with his prostate. He has more toy cars than Kmart. Frankly, he would never be sad at all if his mum would let him have more lollies.

So I’m not sure why, but he said he wants to feel good.

Don’t we all? We want to feel good about our careers, our parenting skills, and our azaleas. A whole industry has grown up around our need to feel good about our fingernails.

So why don’t we hear this kind of prayer more often? Why doesn’t the pastor get up in church and pray, “Lord, some of us are depressed about our age and nervous about the stock market. Some of us have back pain, and, personally, my breakfast isn’t sitting too well. Help us to feel good.”
Our desire to feel good governs everything we do from the time we get up until we clean the lint from between our toes at bedtime. But we don’t like to admit it. There are parts of the world where a person won’t talk about how he feels even if he steps in a bear trap.

Of course, I’m talking about men.

Women are more willing to describe their feelings. Often I hear a woman saying something like, “I feel bad about bringing this wedding present. I wanted the wrapping paper to match the bridesmaids’ dresses.” And all her friends have to gather around and assure her that the wrapping paper really is lovely and that there is no cause for tears.

Which makes me think that there is no telling what people will feel bad about.

And feeling good is not always evidence that everything is in a state of goodness.

I remember participating in a video program when I felt just fine—until I realised I had been in front of the cameras with my zipper at half-mast. So there is some wisdom in deciding that feelings are capricious and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

In fact, I was relieved when Reef gave up the “feel good” prayer and started making more specific petitions.

One time he prayed, “Dear Jesus, please help me not to get stains on my shirts when I eat.” That’s right, son, I thought to myself, and while you’re asking for miracles, why don’t you ask for an end to war and poverty? But I had to admit that it was an improvement. It is better when our prayers are more concerned with being good than with feeling good. If you’re being good, feeling good seems to follow.

And not the other way around.

Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?

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