Self Help

Which one would you prefer: “Feeling better or doing better?”

Which one would you prefer: "Feeling better or doing better?"

“Feeling better is an illusion, just temporary improvement, whereas Doing better understands what aggravates symptoms which is uncomfortable but permanent.”

Feeling better and doing better sound so similar, don’t they? For most of us, feeling better is doing better, while for the rest of us, they are separate concepts. Well, our take on it is tricky too. The two entities seem interwoven and inseparable on one end and diverse and distinct on the other. How do we achieve a median or balance between the two? For argument’s sake, let us consider that, “feeling better and doing better”, are interrelated and interchangeable.

Any fruitful situation demands equilibrium. When the balance is disturbed, it causes distress. The concept of ‘Feeling better’ comes from satisfying a variety of neurotransmitters. This further leads to temporary relief of emotions and feelings in oneself but can cause intense and prolonged effects on an individual.

Feeling Better

For some of us feeling better is eating a pint of ice cream, instead of completing a job assignment or studying for a test. If you are reading this, you may argue that some ice cream never killed anybody. Yes, on the superficial level, this is healthy and harmless. Others may find that retail therapy is a good way to overcome your negative healthy emotions, not realising that this can lead to compulsive behaviour of buying unnecessary things in future. The problem arises when a connection happens between avoidant behaviour and unhealthy emotions. One uses an avoidance mechanism (ice cream for instance) instead of the actual task at hand (i.e. job/test or facing an actual negative emotion).

In layman’s terms, it is what makes one’s soul happy, even when it isn’t what is socially appropriate or productive. It may include behaviours that are temporary relief from our underlying emotions or real-life situations. Examples include shopping, exercise, watching Netflix shows, a glass of wine, etc., that act as a mental escape from everyday mundanity. Doing better typically includes activities that satisfy the ego, which is the rationalizer of the psyche. For instance, better academic performance, dealing with loss/grief, job promotion, etc. 

Doing Better

Whereas, doing better on the other hand means developing and strengthening the differences. It means self-soothing and accepting the fact that flaws are present in every individual, all we have to do is accept the indifferent behaviour of others and work on our issues related to our indifferent behaviour. For example in relationships, we often try to blame our partners for their behaviours that we don’t like and are indifferent to us. All we do is fight over things by attacking our partners and demanding and forgetting to forgive our partners and ourselves.  We forget to look into deeper meanings or things/issues that are linked to it.

However, we are more inclined towards the concept of feeling better with consuming alcohol or smoking or mostly involving ourselves with another partner to move on. Furthermore, the concept of doing better in the above-written example would be to understand their partners and themselves more accurately and coherently.  Doing better is a rough path to choose from as we often have a think that if it isn’t comfortable then why change, but guess what changes are never comfortable but it is permanent.


Now that we have established the broad demarcations between feeling better and doing better we have a surprise for you. Essentially the two are equally important to live a sustainable and fulfilling life. They usually work in unison as best friends for the same endeavour to help us live our best lives. However, conflict and crisis occur when our, “feeling better”, becomes excessive, obsessive, compulsive, or a safety mechanism when we aren’t necessarily, “doing better”. To simplify it, using compulsive shopping, overeating, binge-watching Netflix, and excessive exercise to deal with real-life stressors like depression, anxiety, and disappointment is when mental health concerns show up.

It may seem ironic and counterintuitive that doing better may involve feeling worse for some time. Here is another example of feeling better and doing better to make you understand in simpler terms- Say client X used alcohol to feel good. But the feeling good factor turned into an addiction impairing his doing good component, i.e., work, financial status, and family relationship.

So when the psychologist begins his de-addiction treatment, X may face signs of withdrawal which may prove to be way more painful than his work-life imbalance. Thus, the road to doing better initially entails feeling not as good as you have to put in the work, which may seem discouraging. But look at it as psychological chemo. Although painful at first, it may be the only cure. It is like cleaning out the drawer of your mental junk. Since you stuffed all the emotional garbage in the drawer instead of processing or disposing of it, you must now sort it, reorganize and flush out the unwanted. 

Sometimes you may think you are doing better. On the outside, you have a successful life but on the inside, you are not feeling better. It is the main reason why people say that they are successful but not happy. It may again be due to many unresolved emotions and hidden mental baggage that have been ignored and masked by demanding life situations. So even if you think you have already overcome past triggers like self-esteem/body image struggles, depression, and relationship conflicts, in hindsight, you may not have dealt with them wholesomely. In simple words, the staircase to the pedestal of recovery is a spiral one. The pain and stressors will be behind you and in front of you. It is not an upward climb as you have to round corners with your demons and pain at every step, yet face them, get stronger and progress up relentlessly. The staircase (situation) is constant, but your climb (perception and behaviour) is all that makes a difference. 

All psychology and poetry aside, let us recall a proverb we learned in school. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Sometimes your feeling good may contradict your doing good but may do you a lot of good in the long run. If you are unhappy at a job despite putting in all the work and doing everything right, maybe quitting your job is the best option, even when it does not fit the textbook definition of doing good. Quitting may open up new doors that may complement your feeling good factor as well. So you do you!

Read: A guide to CBT as a Counseling Approach

Counselling and psychotherapy often guide you to find the bridge between the two. It empowers you to be your ideal self, and we all need a little nudge to realign ourselves. With the help of therapy, the goal is to help one realize unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving and develop new ways of coping. It includes people sitting with uncomfortable emotions, facing their situations and further practicing behavioural changes No one rule fits all. There are no winners in this debate, as it is more of a symphony than a debate. So, find a beautiful balance that works for you, and stick with it every single day. Feel better. Do better. Be better. 

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