Meta-Feelings: How Do You Feel About Feeling Good?

meta-feelings: How do you feel about feeling good? - cartoon of a smiling sun

Do you make judgments when things are going well? If you do, that can stir up meta-feelings. Like metacognition is thinking about thinking, meta-feeling is feelings about feelings.

Mental illness, or even a lot of stress, can mean extended periods of time feeling rather yucky. Periods of feeling good, or at least better in a relative sense, maybe only come every now and then. Because they may be on the rarer side, we’re likely to notice them and then react to what we’re noticing.

Feelings vs thoughts

As a quick detour, we often talk about feeling something when we actually mean thinking. Emotions can usually be described in single words. If you need a whole phrase to say it, it’s probably a thought rather than an emotion.

Primary emotions jump up automatically in response to whatever is going on, and then, based on what we think about those emotions, we respond with secondary emotions or meta-emotions. You might feel guilty, ashamed, angry, or fearful for feeling [X]. There’s nothing you can do about feeling X, because your body is generating that response before you even feel it. However, the guilt, shame, anger, and fear are all modifiable.

Let’s throw in a little bit of mindfulness, too. Primary emotions occur in the present moment. Secondary emotions are likely to involve time-travelling, hauling the past or future in where it doesn’t belong.

Reacting to feeling good

So, here we are, we’re present, and our primary emotion is something good. What meta-emotions are likely to kick in as you react to that feeling good/better? Here are a few ideas.

  • Guilty: How can I feel good when there’s still x, y, and z that I should be doing, plus mom’s going through her chemo, so she’s the one who deserves anything good I can come up with.
  • Ashamed: I’m a horrible person. How dare I feel good? Look how many people are suffering in the world right now; I shouldn’t be feeling good when people everywhere are dying from COVID.
  • Distrustful: Feeling good? I haven’t felt good in months, or maybe even years! I must not actually be feeling good. It’s probably just a sugar high from all the peanut butter cups.
  • Skeptical: It’s been ages since I last felt good. There’s no way this is going to last more than maybe an hour before the shit tide comes right back in.
  • Fearful: What is this feeling? I don’t know what this is. Is it a sign that something bad is about to happen? The calm before the shitstorm?
  • Pleased: I’m glad I’m feeling good. It’s about time.

There are probably more options, but that’s what sprung to mind. I generally fall into the skeptical category, on the lookout for the shit tide. The healthy reaction would be the last one, but come on, who does that?

Do any of these familiar to you?

There’s more on emotions in the post Identifying Emotions.

Mental health coping toolkit

The Coping Toolkit page has a broad collection of resources to support mental health and well-being.

53 thoughts on “Meta-Feelings: How Do You Feel About Feeling Good?”

  1. I can identify with skeptical, guilty and shameful. But there’s another aspect – something like “egocentric.” I started to feel good last week on the basis of good things happening to me; then I realized that I was in my “own world” expecting everyone to share my joy. That’s an unrealistic expectation, because such a high level of “joy” based on transitory circumstances can’t possibly be shared by those not sharing the same circumstances. When I feel “too good” I risk becoming self-absorbed. At least, that’s what happened last week.

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