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You see it everywhere—“Good Vibes Only.” Every time this phrase turns up, I find myself looking over my shoulder for some bohemian/spiritual guru/surfer-type who’s instructing me to chill out, man, and stop bringing me down. Life is hard enough, the sign implies, it’s better to just let go and enjoy ourselves and stop taking everything so seriously.

Which is a very good point. And yet, it bugs me. It’s an indirect, passive-aggressive way of saying, be happy, dammit, or else you are not welcome here—which is alienating and shaming if one is not on top of their game that particular day.

And who’s at the top of their game every single day?

“Good Vibes Only” may be well-intentioned, but it reminds me a bit of Big Brother: it implies that one cannot think or act in any way that is not officially permissible. What incredible irony! For a sentiment that appears to be laid back and advocating letting go and letting be and relaxing… it’s awfully controlling. Which, in my opinion, is definitely not a good vibe.

Guess what? It’s okay to be having a bad day. We all have bad days; it’s normal. The good thing about emotions, however, is that they are transitory. Moods always shift, and tomorrow will almost certainly be better (translate: with a “higher” vibe).

Why do we as a culture feel the need to control others’ emotional states?

Possibly because others’ emotional states feel threatening to us. Don’t bring me down, man. What is rarely understood is that others’ emotional states often feel threatening when we aren’t skilled at regulating our own. Fear, anger, envy, frustration—all sorts of negative emotional states can be contagious when we don’t have good emotional boundaries. On the other hand, so can joy, love, gratitude, optimism, and other positive, more desirable states. Of course we want more of the states that feel good, and less of the ones that don’t… which begets clumsy, unhelpful sentiments like “Good Vibes Only.”

Emotional regulation is a vital yet underrated skill which seems to be shrinking with the rise of technology and the culture of distraction.

Distraction keeps us from checking in with ourselves and understanding what we actually feel, what we want and need. It leaves us disconnected from ourselves and the world around us. Emotional intelligence and its accompanying resilience are the antidote: being able to understand our own emotional states, see that others are in a different emotional state, and accept that they are in a different state without trying to change them. This kind of separation allows us to remain equanimous and unaffected—and cultivate “good vibes.”

The “good vibes” created by emotional health and intelligence are an important building block of an enjoyable life and a good barometer of cultural health. We definitely need more people to send “good vibes” out into the world to counteract all the negativity and suffering that seems to be endemic. What you send out into the world both changes the energy of the world, and also returns back to you—if you believe in the laws of karma, which I do. This means it’s vital to take care of your “stuff.” It’s your responsibility to work through whatever you’re struggling with and resolve it so you don’t project it or dump negative emotions onto other people in an effort to avoid managing it yourself. Know what’s yours: do your work, but at the same time give yourself permission to be human, and be working through things. It’s normal, realistic, and perfectly acceptable.

And dude, try to be a little less controlling, okay? It’s definitely not a good vibe. ✌️

Heather Shaff

Heather Shaff is a cyclist, writer, and mom based in Boston. She's fascinated by all things growth, motivation, and learning... and will drop everything for chocolate ice cream.

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