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Why Seeking Gain Maybe True But Not Real

Melvyn Tan
Melvyn Tan
2 min read

If I asked you to identify the different categories of emotions, how many would you say? Five? 10? 22?


I like to think of only two broad categories of emotions, namely pain and gain.

The idea of seeking gain, or pleasure, as the most important intrinsic good is what Hedonism is about.

In other words, we generally seek gain and avoid pain.

Which means:

  • We choose to save money, because of the benefits of having a pool of funds for emergency or investment purposes. And we make a conscious choice not to incur debts, because having debts reduces the amount of options you have available.
  • We choose to exercise and eat healthy food, because staying fit and healthy gives us the freedom and mobility to engage in any form of physical activity that we see fit. And we make a conscious choice to stay away from a sedentary lifestyle and eat food that clogs our system, because doing so means higher chance of dying early.
  • We choose to be happy, because doing so gives us not only the pleasure but also a sense of contentment and calmness. And we make a conscious choice to refrain from harboring unhappy emotions, because it not only affects our emotional well-being, it also has an adverse effect on our physical and mental wellness.

Why gain is true but pain is real

However, we know the above three scenarios are not true. We know that, while seeking gain is true, but it is not real.

Despite knowing that incurring debts limits the opportunities available because of lack of funds, there are people who still rake up huge amount of debts. Despite knowing that eating unhealthy food will clog our system, there are people who still eat whatever they want without thinking about the consequences. Despite knowing that harboring unhappy emotions will affect our emotional, physical, and mental wellness, there are people who have it all and are still depressed.

I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve done all three myself.

I was so deeply in debt and thought there are no other options apart from declaring a bankrupt. I led a high-risk lifestyle, from the food I ate, the amount I smoked, and my main source of fluid was coffee, coke, and tea. I became depressed, despite having all the successes, in my people and professional life, that I even thought about suicide.

I have come to the realization that, while fundamentally we do seek out gain, there are times when we simply live with the pain. When the pain becomes so bad that we do either one of these two actions: we sit up and take charge or we throw our hands in the air and say, “oh, what’s the use!”

From that moment on, we literally make or break.

It was in 2013, where despite having successes in my consulting practice and after my wife gave birth to our second child, I fell deep into depression. It was so bad that some days, I just couldn’t get myself to get out of bed. It was so bad that I’d sabotage myself by making promises and then failing to fulfill them.

Over time, I developed the sense of learned helplessness, where I perceived my lack of control over the circumstances I was facing.

Fortunately for me, things changed when I managed to snap myself out of this funk and turn things around, which I will share with you in the next post.

Melvyn Tan

Despite living the good life at midlife, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. My aim here is to reinvent midlife, learn new skills, and understand how the world works post-COVID.