The Pleasure Trap
Pleasure, the notion of doing something for pure enjoyment is wonderful for our wellbeing.
Yet… we can so often dismiss it as not important enough, by thinking pleasure is somehow frivolous (think of the phrase ‘are you travelling for pleasure or work?’), that it has to be associated with guilt (think of the term ‘a guilty pleasure’) or it is somehow an act of over-indulgence (linking pleasure to being out of control and undisciplined).
We, therefore, can neglect pleasure or punish ourselves for ‘indulging’ in something pleasurable by working harder, restricting things we love, making no time for self or giving more to others.
Have you ever found yourself in such a situation? If so
- How does that make you feel?
- What does that make you think about yourself?
- How does it make you behave?
Viewing pleasure with a new lens
In Greek philosophy there is a school of thought that places pleasure as its central value. I am sure you have heard of it… Hedonism. However, many of us confuse what a hedonist is. For we see it as a person who seeks out pleasure often to the detriment of their wellbeing. All sex, drugs and rock n roll!
Now, I am no philosopher, so I’m not entering into the right or wrong of Hedonism as a school of thought other than to ask what if we took the principle of having pleasure as a core value and took action to bring this into our life? With the understanding that pleasure does not equate to over-indulgence.
- What would that give you permission to do?
- How could you look at what you do with a different perspective?
- Would this enhance your wellbeing?
In tantric yoga, there is the concept that the body, the senses and the brain are instruments through which spirit, or consciousness takes pleasure in itself. If we see pleasure through this lens, are we then honouring the divine when we experience pleasure with awareness?
Pleasure as Motivation
To keep a discipline of self-care and activities for your wellbeing, there has to be an element of enjoyment within it. Otherwise we give it up.
For example, you will never get me jogging or running as I see no pleasure in it, but I will happily partake in kundalini yoga which can involve doing crazy things with your arms as I get pleasure from it.
What about you? What do you find pleasure in? And do you pursue it?
I think we do need to untangle that an activity has to feel pleasurable all the time… it could be that something is uncomfortable but you feel pleasure when you hit the runners high or feel the sensation of your kundalini energy in your being.
We are inherently wired to be motivated by pleasure. Within our brain, the pleasure centres are activated by food, sex and aerobic activity which ensure your physical survival. When we partake in such activities, dopamine and serotonin are released and in response your brain recognises you’re doing something good so wants you to carry on.
These pleasure centres can unfortunately be hijacked by our stress response of reaching for alcohol, junk food and other ‘numbing out’ activities. Which goes back to why hedonism gets a bad rap!
Yet they can also be activated by meditation, yoga, empathy, love, gratitude which can be more rewarding and fulfilling to our wellbeing.
Which would you rather do more of? Reaching for instant gratification or mindful pleasure?
There actually isn’t a right or wrong answer to this… for you need to check in with how any activity is making you feel. If you feel guilt, shame, remorse then you may want to let go of what you deem enjoyable. If you feel ill, lethargic, pain you may want to reframe what you are classing as a pleasurable activity. If your brain is telling you a thousand reasons why what you’re doing is wrong and you’re a terrible person, then you may want to rethink what you are doing.
Pleasure is a fascinating principle to explore as a guiding North Star for your wellbeing.
Give yourself permission to find pleasure in the everyday.
Photo by Allef Vinicius