God Designed Feelings to be a Thermometer; Not a Thermostat

The difference, of course, being a thermometer provides information while a thermostat determines action.

Feelings can be helpful in informing our minds regarding some aspect of our lives so that our minds can assess our situation and determine the best course of action and our wills can implement that plan. However, if we allow our feelings to function as a thermostat, determining our response, our lives will be chaos.

This happens to be a good day to write about this topic since I woke up this morning feeling grumpy, depressed, and mad at the world. I do not know what put me in that mood, but I had no objective reason for those feelings. Feelings don’t need a facts.

Had I let those feelings function as a thermostat and determine my course of action, I would have pulled the covers over my head and stayed in bed, feeling sorry for myself and trying hard to formulate a legitimate reason for feeling mad at someone else to justify my grumpy feelings. “It is their fault, and I need to tell them about it and maybe get even.”

Of course, allowing my negative feelings to dictate my response would be wrong and harmful on any number of counts. It would be foster and promote attitudes displeasing to God, it would hurt my relations with someone else, and do so unjustly, and it would prevent me from using my time and energy achieving what I should be doing— writing this post.

Feelings function differently than a normal thermometer in that instead of being like a silent column of mercury in the tube providing information, negative feelings set off a very annoying signal, something like a smoke alarm, serving as a disruptive force in our lives. That was the case with my feelings this morning.

Thankfully, at least this time I did not allow those feelings to serve as a thermostat guiding my behavior. To turn off the noise, I started to go over some Scripture memory verses to redirect my mind, and I drank a 2nd cup of coffee that helped my body to get its act together. In short order the noise stopped and I was feeling normal— actually I am feeling pretty good.

This does not mean that we should always ignore feelings. They can serve as a very helpful thermostat. If I woke up every morning feeling that way, this would prompt me to recognize the existence of a problem and seek the cause and a cure. If you find yourself consistently having negative emotional reactions to a relationship, it is important to identify the cause of those feelings and discover a way to feel differently.

A major challenge in life resides in the fact that feelings can be quite powerful. Even though they are not designed to function as a thermostat, often they will do just that unless we intervene. Apart from engaging the mind and will, our feelings are all too ready to run our lives. That desire for a second piece of chocolate cake can very easily take over our response unless we intentionally grab hold of the reins and pull those emotional horses to a halt.

This challenge in controlling our emotions, preventing them from functioning as a thermostat and inflicting chaos on our lives, brings us to a cultural concern. A culture encouraging individuals to keep their emotions in check can provide the added impetus necessary to enable us to function according to God’s design, employing our minds and wills. However, a culture that reinforces the employment of emotions can provide them with added impetus, empowering them to become the dominant force in our lives and in society, inducing massive amounts of chaos.

Currently the American culture is comprised of the latter characteristic, viewing feelings as the central component of humanity, viewing its rightful function as being a thermostat that controls our lives. Much of the chaos that we observe in our society today can be traced to this erroneous role assigned to feelings. In the next several posts I plan to discuss the forces that have assigned emotions this invalid role as the determiner of behavior.

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