We need to rethink how we culturally view pleasure. Look around you. I’m sure you will find most of the cultural value systems align with chasing that juicy little hedonic carrot. Whether it be pleasure in the form of a bottle (alcohol), a pill (take your pick) or a screen (pornography or Instagram), it’s pretty clear that these value systems are out of wack. But does it need to be this way? I don’t think so.
We seek pleasure over meaning. Whilst at the same time, shying away from responsibility under the guise of “an easy life”. When in reality there’s nothing easy about living with no meaning, with no responsibilities. It’s very likely that nihilism will worm it’s way into even the most care free of us eventually. There’s only so long the party can last. We all know of the forty-five year old who’s still living for the weekend and there’s a reason we cringe at the sight of him. Humans are social animals. This stuff matters. There’s a reason we respect people who assume great responsibility and achieve impressive feats. Don’t be fooled by false idols.
What about running from stress? I don’t want a stress free life, I want a life filled with stressors of my own choosing. Think – a long run, writing a book, or raising a well functioning family. These are all stressful undertakings that, if we choose, can be re-framed as being pleasurable and in-turn add a lot of meaning into our lives. There is much more pleasure to be found in achievement than in the bottom of a bottle.
So then, can we culturally re-define what we find pleasurable? I sure hope so.
My hope is that we can shift away from the hyper rationale view that “life has no real meaning so lets fuck shit up”, and move towards the macro that is love, unity and finding meaning in the small stuff. That we can shift away from your “best life” being a picture of you pouting on boat with a wine glass in your hand, and move towards it being something like writing books that will change the world or making scientific breakthroughs. That these new “best life” pictures will be of us doing things that truly allow us to add a deep sense of meaning to our lives and if possible benefit mankind at the same time.
Of course there is some subjectivity as to what we do and don’t classify as “pleasurable”. However, I would argue there’s enough universal truths in this life that, if nothing else, we can steer ourselves away from the hedonic treadmill toward lives filled with meaning, love and community. With things that will benefit the society we inhabit, as well as enriching our souls without having to spike our dopamine levels with some artificial stimulus. Remember, most of these “pleasures” down regulate reward centres in the brain, so pick and choose your poison with caution.
Meaning is found in assuming as much responsibility as one can bare, and then trying to take on that little bit more.
Would you like a life filled with more meaning? If so, the next time you feel like blasting yourself with drugs, Instagram, Television, or something else you know is a zero sum game. Contemplate what alternative behaviour you could implement that will further nudge the needle toward you cultivating more meaning in life. I dare you to try it sometime, see how it goes. You may just find your life is that little bit better. If not, you die knowing you gave your “best life” a crack anyway.
Until next time.
M L Wood ❤