In case there's any confusion, Newton didn't actually write the 3 Laws of Emotion. He wrote the 3 Laws of Motion.
Mark Manson, in his new book, Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, tells a true story about the life of Isaac Newton. He describes how he was frail, picked on, and even physically abused.
Manson then tells us to imagine a parallel world. Instead of Newton focusing on the laws of physics, he masters the laws of emotion.
It's a clever way to propose a new way of thinking about emotions and how we relate to them.
Law of Emotion #1: For every action, there is an equal and opposite emotional reaction
Around 1760 BC, King Hammurabi took Babylonian law a bit further when he codified it and inscribed it in stone.
Come to be known as the Code of Hammurabi, it is most remembered for the law: An eye for an eye.
The first law of emotion reflects this same idea. When something happens in life, there is an emotional reaction to it.
This law also reflects the concept of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Manson considers this law of emotion the operating system of our feeling brain – the part of our brain that develops values around our experiences.
Let's say you stub your toe on a coffee table. This action creates what Manson calls a moral gap.
Because you are suddenly experiencing pain for no clear and justified reason, your feelings step in to try and balance the sudden injustice.
You become angry at the coffee table – maybe you even curse it. The same goes for if a flood destroyed your home, or if you were punched in the face for no reason.
Our brains are constantly seeking a state of homeostasis so when a moral gap opens up out of nowhere, our emotional reaction is to restore the balance and right the injustice. We seek retribution, justice.
If a flood destroys our home, we curse nature, the sky, maybe even God.
The same thing occurs when something really good happens to us. If a friend suddenly bought you a Ferrari, for example, you'd feel indebted to them.and may even refuse the house knowing you'd never be able to repay them. if country elects someone you don't want, you'll feel disconnected. if your favorite team is losing, you'll feel distant from them. "Equalization is present in every experience because the drive to experience is emotion itself."
"Sadness is a feeling of powerlessness to make up for perceived loss. Anger is the desire to equalize through force and aggression. Happiness is feeling liberated from pain while guilt is the feeling you deserve some pain that never arrived."
Law of Emotion #2: Our self worth equals the sum of our emotions over time
An action opens up a moral gap and we seek equalization, that is essentially the first law. What if the equalization never comes? What if we feel powerless to make things right?
When the gaps persist for long periods of time, instead of equalizing, they normalize and become our default expectation.
The example he gives is if someone hits you and you're unable to hit them back or equalize the moral gap, over time, you will come to believe you deserve to be hit.When we can't equalize, we assume we're inferior and they're somehow superior. Or at the very least, we are inferior.
This is a defense mechanism. If the feeling brain can't find a way to equalize, it will do the next best thing: give in. This leads to low self worth.
The opposite is true as well. If we're given everything without earning it -- like a gold medal for 9th place -- we falsely come to believe we are somehow superior of who we actually are. This leads to high self worth, or as MM puts it: being an asshole.
Regardless where you place yourself, if you think yourself worse or better off, you're still seeing yourself as somehow special and different from the rest of the world. We all have a little bit of narcissists in us. more insecure you are about something, more you'll go back and forth believing, I'm the best, or I'm the worst.
self worth is an illusion. we also have a bunch of biases that make us think we are special. our feelings to this on purpose to make us feel like we're special so it can self-correct. without it we'd likely give up hope.
Law of Emotion #3: Your identity will stay your identity until a new experience acts against it
Mark Manson gives the example of boy leaves girl: should she believe all boys are shit or she is shit? Well, in self preservation she believes men are shit and subconscily she lives her life this way. But then she meets someone who isn't shit and she doesn't know what to do. She ends up still believing he must be shit and knit picks his tiniest flaws and most insignificant mistakes and then runs. The boy then must decide if he is shit or she is.
When really hard things happen to us, our values tend to kick in. But these values aren't just feelings but collections of stories. They're our narratives constructed around what life means and our place within it. The people we surround ourselves with can enforce these values or help us to develop new ones.
Our experiences, self perception, environment, and social network (among other things) combine to form our identity. Subconsciously, you learn to protect this identity in the same way you might protect your physical body. After all, it's a part of 'you.' Over time, our values compound and become deeper and deeper parts of our identities.
Which is why trauma can be so hard to overcome. Since it gets so deeply embedded into us, how we respond to us determines much of our lives. And the longer they exist, the more they become invisible and disappear into the background of our lives.
To change them, we must do things contrary to them. Of course, almost every time it's always met with pain and discomfort. Which is why change is so fucking hard. You literally have to go against an identify you build for yourself. And then you have to mourn your former self.
2 ways to heal self and replace bad values with better ones
Since the third Law of Emotion states your identity and values will stay the same until a new experience transforms it, there are a couple things you can do to replace your bad values with better ones.
- Revisit experiences in past and rewrite the narratives around them. For example, did he punch me because I'm a bad person or because he's a bad person? When we go back into the skeleton closet of our lives, we may realize what we used to believe about ourselves isn't in fact true – and what we believed about others may not be true. The more we're able to do this and dive into our past to evaluate of instead of simply reacting to it, the more we will learn about ourselves and see truths we would have otherwise never known.
- Write the narratives of your future self. Whereas diving into your past can sometimes feel hard, writing the narrative of your future should feel fun. This is a space where you can allow your emotions to play dress up to try some things on. How do you want to feel? What would life be like if you lived by the values that were most important to you? This activity is very similar to visualization. And although creating a vision board won't magically bring you everything you want, thinking and meditating on the things can help overwrite how you've been with who you want to be.
Eventually, after rewriting your past and writing out what you want the future to feel like, your identity will begin to shift. No longer will you be a prisoner of your past. Instead, you can Newton's Laws of Emotion and complete alter the physics of your life.