The Importance of Pleasure
Pleasure. Our culture offers it at every turn with entertainment and access to experiences of all kinds, yet it seems to me that many of us are not that skilled at deeply experiencing it, and are instead, often guarded against it. Taking pleasure in life is directly linked to our happiness so the task of relearning what gives us pleasure and how to deeply experience it is imperative if we want to experience more happiness.
Google dictionary defines pleasure as “A feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment”. A lovely word that often elicits caution in people when suggesting to them they need more of it. In this culture, many of us seem to have a belief that pleasure can lead us down a misguided path. Clients and friends speak of how following pleasure leads to addictions, gluttony, and “falling off the wagon”. Images of drug addiction, intoxication, obesity, sexual promiscuity and 10 hours spent playing computer games spring into their heads. Thought of that way, following pleasure is dangerous and is equivalent to making a deal with the devil.
With images of that sort coming to mind, I can understand the concern! However, I actually believe that NOT knowing, listening to and following that which genuinely pleases us is, in truth, what eventually leads us to gluttony and addiction. When I talk about pleasure I am talking about the feeling that we can have when we are in the present moment and consciouslytaking full enjoyment in what we are experiencing. This is different than the feeling of relief from discomfort and moving away from one’s self and the present moment that addictions offer. Being present and mindful is a key component of truly experiencing pleasure.
What we describe as being pleasurable is unique to each of us. Opportunities abound for each of us every day even when we are in the middle of unpleasant circumstances. We simply need to relearn how to pay attention to our sensual experience (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching) and recognize the feelings of “happy satisfaction and enjoyment” that come from paying attention to even the most common experiences throughout our days. Once we get in the habit of paying attention and experiencing pleasure, we will be inspired to continue the practice because it feels good!
Many of us have not been taught the importance of taking pleasure in life and how it can increase our happiness so we miss opportunities every day to tune in to pleasure. Consider when you are driving or walking and suddenly notice the moon rising over the horizon, or you turn the corner just in time to witness a gorgeous sunset. Such moments can ignite feelings of pleasure and break us into the present moment if even for a short while.
Again, the key to deeply experiencing pleasure is to be present with and consciously taking in what we are experiencing. Look around you at any moment of the day and notice what you like, however small. Pay attention to the pleasant feelings that are elicited when you tune into what you like about right now. I understand, depending on your mood, some moments will be easier than others to notice what you like, but most moments offer some pleasure, however small.
You will of course have your own unique list, but here are some examples of experiences any one of us might find to be pleasurable:
Talking with a good friend, quietly sitting and petting your cat or dog, the sight and sound of a child laughing, the feeling of wearing your favorite shirt, listening to your favorite song, the taste of a delicious breakfast in the morning, taking a walk at dusk, doing a craft, the sight of flowers in spring, learning a new skill, the feeling of laying down to sleep after a long day, the feeling of the warm dish water on your hands while washing dishes, the satisfaction of finishing a project, sleeping in, laughing with people at work, the outside smell in early morning, feeling strong after a long work out, the feeling of the sun on your face…Once you begin to take notice of what you like and that which gives you pleasure, you will recognize how many opportunities there are throughout your days for feeling good.
While life can be challenging and difficult at times and I am not attempting to make light of that, I am suggesting that despite the struggles that we may find ourselves in the midst of, opportunities abound for us to bring more “happy satisfaction and enjoyment” into our daily lives. We can all use more of that! So asking yourself, “What’s your pleasure in this moment?” Can mean the difference between a dull, forgettable moment and a mindful, happy one.