What exactly drives human behaviour? This is a question many have researched and reflected about. Many seem to agree (me too!) that, brought down to its most essential elements (even if rather oversimplified), ultimately everything we do is aimed at seeking pleasure and/or avoiding pain.
Yet, pain and pleasure are not absolute realities but constructed concepts. We each have our own definition for it. What may bring me pleasure, may bring suffering to others. And the story behind each event or item (the meaning we attribute to it) will also influence whether we experience more pleasure or instead more pain.
So, how come so many of us often feel fairly guilty - or even ashamed - about the idea of enjoying pleasure, real pleasure, whether that is physical (including sexual), intellectual, emotional, etc? In the end, actually, it's all the brain... The reasons why we feel guilty generally come from societal values and (limiting) beliefs that were imparted on us at a very young age, and which we never got to decide whether they should be accepted or rejected; we were too young. "A loving wife will put her husband's needs (= and pleasure) ahead of her own", "a good girl/boy will not smile like that way", "a good colleague will not boast about his job promotion", "a true believe will accept the suffering in life without questioning His word", and so on... Any of these sound familiar?! Can you think of other stories - even actual lies - that your 'inner voice' keeps repeating to you? We receive a lot of external messages telling us that enjoying pleasure is 'bad', so we tend to actively or passively avoid it. We fear how others might judge us for it.
Surely, we should not enjoy our own pleasures at the expense of others (much less their suffering - there are better ways of doing things), but we are certainly worthy of it and it is a crucial ingredient in a happy life (positive emotions and feeling good is the first elements in Martin Seligman's theory of well-being, the P.E.R.M.A. model). The goal is not to exactly to avoid or eliminate all suffering from our life, but we are allowed (maybe even entitled) to seek pleasure. It's in our DNA. Or better, in the end, it's all in your brain... And this means you can 're-programme' yourself to focus less on (avoiding) suffering and instead start enjoying more pleasure, all kinds ;)
Are you keeping your 'Inner Voice' in check? Is it stopping you from enjoying pleasure for 'no good reason'!? Does it really hurt anyone if you had more pleasure?!
What could you do this week to savour life a bit better? Here are 3 options:
Can you think of a situation (or do something) that will bring you some pleasure in the present? Can you recall a happy memory and savour (again) the pleasure it brought you? Or even, can you think of your next vacation or exciting encounter and anticipate how nice it will be?
[First Published in the Seeds for Growth and Joy newsletter on 28-04-2022.]