Sometimes, my columns for 2nd Opinion start out with simple questions with seemingly simple answers. In this case, my editor asked me why we feel good when we do bad things.
I think I answered it properly in the magazine’s October 2017 issue.
So bad… so good?
Why do we love what’s bad for us?
by KC Calpo
I used to binge-watch this underrated American TV series named United States of Tara. It was broadcasted in the US by Showtime (but illegally distributed by multiple Philippine dibidi sellers) back in 2009-2011. Headlined by the equally underrated Toni Collette as Tara, a post-Sex and the City John Corbett, and a young and Oscar-less Brie Larson, the series was about a woman living with dissociative identity disorder, and how her multiple personalities manifested and affected her and her loved ones.
One personality, or “alter” in the show’s lingo, was Gimme, described by Corbett’s character Max as pure id. If it wanted to wear a red poncho and Max’s underwear, then pee on Tara’s father in the middle of the night (as it did in its series debut), it did exactly that. It didn’t pause for reflection, or consider consequences. It did what it wanted, wherever/whenever/however it wanted, and in the most rudimentary ways, just because.
That character was the first thing that came to mind when the topic for this column came up. Nicole had asked me to explain why we love what’s bad for us. Those who know me also know I’m not a good model for self-control—which is most likely why she asked me to write it.
Unlike Gimme, I won’t pee on anyone in their sleep, or resort to animalistic tendencies in my efforts to tell reality and adulthood to go screw themselves. But giving in to our impulses is like letting a bit of our poncho-less id come out, right? And why do we love being bad? Here are the three factors that I think make us go for the opposite end of the behavioral scale, a.k.a. letting out a bit of the Gimme in you.
(I can only speak for myself, and only in relation to specific vices. If you’re tackling more serious or lifelong issues, please seek professional help.)
We’re taught binaries early in life: this is good, this is bad. That’s right, and that’s wrong. Those are acceptable, and unacceptable. Black, white. Cool, uncool. Go, stop. Et cetera ad infinitum.
Later on, we learn about the so-called gray or in-between areas, and about how (in most cases) jumping to the bad side isn’t that, um, bad. We find that the rewards of being good are equal to those of being bad, or are even outweighed by the latter in some contexts. And after being told for so long that you have to be good—with that unspoken “or else” threat—there’s something freeing about consciously choosing to do the exact opposite. We actually feel good when we’re being bad, and we’ll keep testing how far we can go with it so we can feel even better about it.
This may be why, at a certain age range (or not), we always fall for the bad or emotionally unavailable boy, think of drinking/smoking/illegal drugs as cool, opt for street smarts instead of book smarts, value misplaced frankness and foul language over decency and manners. The notoriety associated with being bad (and being with like-minded people) is alluring and exciting, and sometimes the rules are just too boring. Life’s too short, blah blah blah.
Again, I can’t speak for anyone else in my generation, but in the past, I strived to be as “bad” and badass as men. (And again, here come the bad life choices.) I held my liquor most of the time, smoked up to a pack a day, tried everything I can try, and went home at 7 a.m. and was in class/work all sobered up by 9 a.m. And even if I were late for work, I’d still be functional and get everything done, and be ready for another round of socials by time-out.
I thought then that I was just being one of the boys, down for everything, so cool and cowboy about things. I realized later on that it was my way of rebelling and breaking stereotypes. I wanted to be at that same level because as a woman, I’ll always be expected to be poised, delicate, restrained/controllable, and be full-on “wife material.” I chafed at those expectations, and went for the opposite instead.
I still abide by the same principle now. Never mind if it’s considered bad; I’ll do as I please, and you’ll never get the satisfaction of telling me who and how to be. Of course, there are better and healthier ways to live by that than forming bad habits, but we all learn in our own time.
You get a prize!
Okay, here’s another possible reason for our propensity for bad stuff: the way they’re packaged as prizes.
Take how we glorify alcohol and unhealthy food as examples, through both marketing and rationalization. Hard week at work? Have a drink at this new hipster bar. Check out this buffet place with an unlimited promo, or this restaurant with a superstar chef’s name on the signage. Try this latest imported food franchise with high price points and low-quality eats. But who cares about the massive calories and expenses? You have to indulge, because you’ve been good, and you deserve it!
There’s nothing wrong with occasional rewards; or trying out new things, good or bad. But if you’re like me, who often overindulges and takes the bad options because they’re easier and cheaper coping mechanisms… we know what happens next, right?
“Tara, inom tayo!” (Come on, let’s drink!) becomes the refrain for breakups, work and work politics, family issues, and everything else. Drinking and eating too much are easier than directly dealing with the real problems. Negative preferences in partners and friends aren’t outgrown. So on, and so forth.
Hard habits to break
So we know the bad stuff’s bad. Now, you ask, why do we still choose them? If you’ve gotten this far, and still use bad habits and past decisions as crutches, then we’re not exactly choosing anymore, are we? It stops being about love, and becomes more about habits. It’s what you’re used to, so why mess with a “good” thing?
Yes, I know smoking’s bad for me; you don’t have to keep reminding me. It’s tough, breaking an 18-year-old vice with total expenses that can already send several children to school. I know some people who still believe they need to drink to be more sociable or interesting; or that they have to be dead drunk to have an awesome time, or numb whatever they’re feeling. There are those who think it’s okay to be in relationships with people who treat them badly; or believe their needs, wants, and selves are secondary to their partners’.
Sure, recognition’s just the first step—we all have to start somewhere. But eventually, even the most hardwired to choose badly will have to ask what they’re getting in return, and act accordingly.
What’d you get for an answer? Whatever it is, I hope you do much better than I have in the switch to good things. In the meantime… cheers to you. ⦾