The modern hostility to pleasure

In our allegedly hedonistic society, far more people are preoccupied with pain than with pleasure. Of course, pain relief and pain control are important subjects. However, only quite a few look closer at pleasure and the role of it in life. In the same line, to date, hardly anyone has endeavored to present to the general public guidelines based on the scientifically-proven premise that pleasure promotes health and happiness. The public is aware of the importance of pleasure in life, though in an unclear way. In general, people have lost their "first sense" for living and cannot seem to find their way to a gratifying life.

Unfortunately, our society is characterized by a denial and fear of pleasure. And many of our so-called pleasures-smoking, excessive drinking, and over-indulgence in foods and desserts-are not really pleasures at all. They are, in fact, pseudo-pleasures, that is, substitutes for the true pleasures in life: making love, intimacy and sharing, creating, moving, learning, laughing-in other words, living. And because pseudo-pleasures do not satisfy truly, they are over-indulged in.

Pleasure has always played a critical role in human life-in love, sex, work and play. Unfortunately, modern life was shaped by the anti-pleasure philosophy. This hostility to pleasure was reinforced with the rise of the work ethic and the mercenary spirit of capitalism. However, there has been increasing appreciation among many people of the critical role pleasure plays in physical and emotional health, creativity, happiness in life, vitality and longevity.

Sadly, most of us harbor within a “hidden saboteur” that resists pleasure in life. This behavior is usually unconscious and difficult to overcome. In many ways, we are all subtly influenced, and sometimes even consciously trained, to resist pleasure. This is done by parents, medical professionals, educators, religious leaders and other authority figures. Over time, a large number of people become unable even to feel pleasure. It is a great challenge, but within our reach, to unlearn the anti-pleasure messages we have received

But how do we learn to move toward pleasure, rather than only away from pain; to embrace healthy pleasures rather than struggle to control “bad” habits? Ineffective coping mechanisms such as smoking, over-eating or excessive drinking or drug use can be replaced with natural pleasures. The relish for life that natural pleasures engender provides the motivation and vitality needed to live a life informed by joie de vivre.