Pleasure, sadness and reality

As an experiment, try and find the habits in your daily life that are driven by pleasure – you know the ones i mean – those things you do when you’re a little bit bored which give you that nice little buzz and dopamine hit.

It is difficult. It forces you to reflect on your actions and life, and it eventually forces you to recognise that pleasurable things are not the most fulfilling things, precisely because they are temporary and external. In this way, pleasure is different to happiness.

Pleasure is a momentary feeling that comes from something external — a good meal, a message notification, making love and so on. Pleasurable experiences can give us momentary feelings of satisfaction, but this feeling does not last long because it is dependent upon external events and experiences. Try and locate the pleasurable (not happy, remember) activity in your life and try to stop doing it for a whole day – I’m almost certain you’ll find it hard to do.

But pleasure is not wrong in and of itself – so why stop? Because we need to know how we feel without the constant pleasure seeking. Are we doing all these things because we are sad without them? And if we are in fact sad about something, shouldn’t we find a more permanent solution?

The trouble comes when we ascribe the pleasurable activities in our lives more value and power than we should. A drug addict gives heroine priority over everything else – she sees it as the source of her happiness and of her power in life. Similarly a bulimic ascribes power to food and the control thereof. In actual fact, drugs and throwing up give us but a temporary pleasure – not a true satisfaction. They are not the answer to any sadness that is felt.

Once we see the things we are deriving pleasure from, a useful next step is to reflect on how we feel when we do not have access to these things – are we happy or sad without them? If we are happy without them, then there is no real problem. Carry on living.

If we are sad without them, and furthermore if we rely on the activity more than we should – then something needs to change for the sadness to lift.