While writing this, I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop and I’ve just enjoyed a latte and a caramel slice. I’m on my own, there is gentle music in the background and I’m writing. For me, these elements all make up a pleasurable experience, but what exactly is pleasure?
Last week, I attended a philosophy forum trying to answer this exact question and since then, my mind has been mulling over the discussion that unfolded. Tom, a philosophy lecturer arrived at five possible philosophical enumerations of what pleasure could be, these were:
- a bodily sensation,
- a bodily sensation that is the opposite of pain,
- not a sensation, but more of a feeling or an emotion – a flavour of reality if you like,
- getting what you want (we all know this is pleasurable right?), and finally
- a blissful state of tranquility, neither pulled by desire nor distracted by pain.
Each of these has pros and cons of course. For example, on the fourth point, Schopenhauer said that if we were to always get what we want we would become bored and hang ourselves. Ok ok, so that’s Schopenhauer being characteristically pessimistic, but he has a point, right? If we always get what we want or things fall immediately into our laps, then how fun is that? Imagine if a potential date was always available and put you first for everything ***yawn***, or what about if your parents gave you everything as a child, would you really experience more pleasure than those who didn’t receive every new iteration of iPhone? I doubt that.
This is because the amount of pleasure we experience is similar to that of running on a treadmill. With the treadmill analogy, despite how fast you run you always stay in the same spot. Similarly, with pleasure, we run to it, but we stay roughly in the same spot. This may be because we have a certain disposition towards pleasure, whether we’re running fast or slow.
Another analogy of pleasure is to understand it as a mirage effect in that when you get to the pleasurable experience, it evaporates. This explains why one piece of cake is good, two pieces are excessive and three pieces are darn right sickening.
At any time, pleasure could be (1) the sweet taste of a chocolate cake, (2) a soft kiss with a loved one, (3) a happy workplace, (4) landing that new job, or (5) experiencing an untroubled mind while walking in nature.
The question is, what do you find pleasurable? Do more of that.