The Toxic Effects of the Feel-Good Industry

Adrian Adnaan Osmani
5 min readNov 21, 2017

When was the last time you felt good? It might have been 10 seconds ago when someone liked your picture on social media. Or it might have been when you returned home after a long day at work.

It doesn’t last, does it?

Before you read on, go ahead: I invite you to brand me as a pessimist. You’ve already made up your mind, and can therefore exit this article onto reading something that makes you feel good faster. You don’t need negativity in your life.

For those that have stayed, welcome. You are all my guests. And I want to also commend you on successfully resisting and overcoming instant-gratification culture. I give you my most warmest appreciation.

When people say that “they don’t need negativity” in their life, I examine that phrase very closely. The phrase probably originates from the way magnets behave, with positive and negative ends. Any physicist, electrician or even philosopher will tell you that the positive does not exist without the negative. Because by definition, that is what a polarity is.

You know what else is a polarity? Binary code. Every computer device that has ever been made is built on the foundation that something is either 0 or 1. That will soon change with quantum computers that introduce qubits — a unit that is both 0 and 1 at the same time; as a result quantum computers can compute a lot more than our computers of today.

I mention this because, coming back to my statement, the idea that you can eliminate, dispose or lessen negativity in your life without it inversely impacting the levels happiness you can experience is naive. It’s a bit like saying “I want it to be hot all the time” but if the whole world was always the same temperature (putting catastrophe aside) the concept of temperature wouldn’t exist. You wouldn’t measure 30 degrees because, it would always be 30 degrees.

As poet Khalil Gibran so eloquently put it:

“ Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

If it is the case that positivity and negativity are not each other’s enemies but infact, two sides of the same coin, then why do we pour so much of our time and energy onto one side of the scale? More about that later.

What should really scare us is the idea that we have somehow become okay with framing our experience through a binary. We either had a great experience or a shit one. If we should encounter sadness, this is the Great Enemy and should be expelled and forgotten. We so often forget, as Gibran puts it, that our sadness is actually a vessel for the joy that we are capable of experiencing, and that we actually constantly fluctuate between those two states. If you reduce your sadness, you automatically reduce the happiness you are capable of feeling because you are essentially narrowing the spectrum on which your emotions operate.

More disturbingly, we are told to forget our sadness. Anyone who has experienced bereavement knows inherently that this is a massive lie. Your sadness and joy for the person you loved and lost fluctuate, you remember good times, bad times, everything in between. There is no forgetting the dead.

Cut to-

The feel-good industry.

This industry includes, but is not limited to: your smartphone and everything that has ever (or will be) installed on it. Foods that make you feel-good but leave you still empty inside. Anyone or anything “self-help” that tells you your obstacle to happiness is “negativity.”

When you mix in the pursuit of happiness with instant-gratification culture, that is the feel-good industry. It is a toxic mix of hedonism masquerading as virtue, and that when we feel sad, it’s okay, reach out to your nearest form of entertainment and tune in and feel-good again. You can feel-good again just after a few minutes; you will not have to wait very long.

When we are expected not just to feel-good, but feel-good instantly, it creates an unwritten rule of appearances. It creates a hostile environment for those who may be experiencing reality authentically — not as a 5 star rated Netflix binge-boxset, but as a varied, sometimes banal but nevertheless fluctuating experience.

Meanwhile we are artificially inflating our feel-good field like NOS balloons, being told a very vicious lie that our happiness can grow upwards and upwards as long as we “keep positive” with no underlying sorrow that forms the strong foundation on which our happiness can grow; nope, just keep tapping away. And if you’re under duress, fuck you for messing with my vibe /sarcasm.

I used the word “industry” to describe this phenomenon because there is no other context that suits it. Happy people make efficient workers. It is no coincidence that our feel-good culture emerges at a time where profits and margins are squeezed to go higher and higher.

Meanwhile, we pay a very significant price, not just personally but as a society for creating a culture of binary appearances.

Let’s list some of them (because we all know how much the internet LOVES lists.)

I give you my Top 5 Reasons As To Why You Are Left Feeling Alienated Exactly As Philosophers Predicted Hundreds Of Years Before You Exited The Fallopian Tube:

  • Social media image filtering that makes you feel-good and creates an unrealistic expectation of what you actually look like.
  • Any imagery of what you think a feel-good body looks like, while you painfully contort yourself to fit such an expectation.
  • Feel-good self-help culture that teaches you to deny your natural polarity all the while tacitly creating a drug-like relationship between you and your happiness.
  • Believing that inanimate numbers on a bank account give a fuck about you, or have the potential to make you feel-good. They will, if denial is your thing.
  • Any forms of media that makes you feel-good and teaches you to experience your reality as if it was your favourite fiction, rather than experiencing it authentically.

There’s a wonderful moment in Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” towards in the end where she enters a short, but great improvisation of syllables (often used in jazz) that sound like gibberish but actually convey the emotion really well. In my opinion, that’s what feeling good is. It cannot be described, discussed and it almost certainly cannot be bought.

In our relentless pursuit of happiness, we have perhaps made a very simple mistake that comes down to a language-game. What we want isn’t happiness, but contentment. No one stays out in holiday forever — we enjoy holidays because we know they will end. When it is when we come back to what we know and our yin and yang have been equally balanced, when we experience a state of utter stillness, what perhaps the philosopher Heidegger termed as dasein, or “being” when you just simply are. — Perhaps that is what we need more than anything.

Then again, contentment doesn’t make a great social media feed. Who wants to watch a Netflix series with no plot?

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Adrian Adnaan Osmani

Writer based in London, specialising in Literature, Philosophy and Marketing.