Investing in Pleasure

Pleasure is an essential element – vital to our existence – to build in daily.

When was the last time you totally sunk into pleasure? Whole-heartedly and unreservedly immersed yourself? I hope it was earlier today.

I tend to agree with the Kama Sutra which affirms that ‘pleasures are as necessary for the well-being of the body as food.’

Nature appreciates the power of pleasure. Think about it – pleasure has ensured the survival of the human species by making food and sex activities we want to repeat. Survival has also relied on the Adrenalin rush of fight or flight reflexes – but as a long term strategy fear is never your friend. Fear will move you just out of harm’s way and leave you there.

It’s what you find pleasurable that really moves you along.

  • is a reward in and of itself
  • makes both physical and intellectual exploration more likely (When is your best problem solving most likely to happen? When clenched and reliving earlier irritating conversation, plotting downfall of rude colleague, despairing of dodgy lawnmower or relaxed with a cup of tea and clear mind?)
  • activates
  • motivates (If there was a floating cherub who massaged my shoulders while I carried out administrative tasks, there would never be a pile of neglected receipts by my computer.)
  • expands imaginative thought
  • gets you out of your head (Pleasure is not a mind thing. It cannot lie. It just is.)
  • brings you into the moment
  • dispels tension
  • reduces stress
  • relaxes muscles
  • gives strength and fortitude
  • is good for concentration
  • makes you attractive (Imagine a face filled with pleasure and then one filled with just about any other emotion and choose who you’d rather spend a starry twilight evening with.)
  • makes anything it graces emotionally sustainable
Deprivation of pleasure
  • tends to ravenously backfire (Think of the aftermath of restrictive diets.)
  • curtails creativity, confidence and passion
  • cultivates resentment and a judgemental mindset

If there were a poster boy for pleasure it would surely be Theodore Roosevelt.

One of his friends famously said that life for Roosevelt was the ‘unpacking of endless Christmas stockings.’ This is not a man who was a stranger to difficulties – he was bedridden with illness for much of his childhood, lost his cherished father as a young man, and then his beloved wife and mother on the same day not very long afterwards. Pleasure did not lull him into inertia. He graduated from law school, wrote nearly 40 books, served as the 26th president of the United States and won the Nobel Peace Prize. He lived a passionate and meaningful life that frequently found him laughing and chasing his children around the White House and ensuring wildlife conservation.

Pleasure offers so many gifts, but funnily enough, many clients I see experience reluctance to and suspicion of pleasure. There is a cloud of guilt that can coalesce. Pleasure seems to get lumped together with selfishness and self-indulgence. There’s also a pernicious and weedy belief that one must suffer in order to deserve pleasure. Sometimes I hear that pleasure is a luxury to be savoured ONLY after all else is accomplished for boss, family, school, house, pet, car…. (You know the endless list.) What would Teddy say?

Cultural/familial/religious factors may have helped along these beliefs. There are psychological explanations too. Freud asserted that the suppression of a woman’s sexuality leads to further inhibition of desire and curiosity, creating a restriction on wanting and knowing that spreads throughout her life. I believe we could replace ‘woman’s sexuality’ with the more general term pleasure and have this still ring true – for both women and men. Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan in her book, The Birth of Pleasure, points out that staying in pleasure equals staying open – which feels vulnerable. Perfectionism gets in the way. So does depression.

I’d like to take up the call of pleasure here and urge you to recognize daily doses of pleasure as the INVESTMENTS they are. Weaving mindful and guilt-free episodes of pleasure into each day not only ratchets up immediate happiness and comfort, but accrues into deep well-being and future resilience to depression, withered heartedness and cultivates an open, calm, creative mind.

Most importantly – honouring pleasure sets us on the path to our own, specific right life. Each person’s pleasure compass is unique and calibrated to their own precise self. I LOVE getting massages and kayaking, but I know many people who (how is it possible??!) don’t. Pleasure is what your native ground is made of. Pleasure is what you experience when you’re on the road to passion and fulfilment (think Teddy.) The signposts are often subtle, so I encourage you to become a connoisseur of your own pleasure. If you like cooking – what about cooking do you like best? The satisfying shomp shomp sound of the chopping, the smells, textures and colours of the food, the sharp shiny knives, sharing your food with others, the memories certain recipes bring up? The more you know yourself and recognize your own patterns and sensations of pleasure the better you’re able to draw out a map to find the source your natural creativity, strengths, talents and affinities spring from.

Feeling lost? Stuck? Angry? Sad? Begin to plot your own pleasure map. Make a love list.

As the Sufi poet Rumi so eloquently spoke, ‘Let yourself be silently drawn by the strong pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.’

Think in terms of all your senses. Just as a start, here are some proven ways to bring pleasure into your daily life:

  • funny films and books – anything that makes you laugh. Laughter is the best way to break up stodgy headspace. Pay attention to what it is exactly that makes you laugh. It’s fantastic info for your pleasure map.
  • hot bath – preferably with scented bubbles, candles and quiet.
  • fresh flowers on your desk or in your entryway greet you with colour, scent and connection to nature.
  • sex – beyond the immediate and obvious physical benefits of touch and release, it strengthens connection with your partner which promises further pleasure in all sorts of directions. Scads of new research is also showing that it boosts immunity, reduces pain, reduces prostate cancer risk, helps you sleep better, enhances self-esteem and improves cardiovascular health. Make time for it!
  • time with friends. Friends are the people in your life who you feel better for having spent time with. People who enjoy your company, listen to and respect who you are. They tend to reflect back the best version of yourself, and will lovingly call you out if you’ve crossed the line into an unhealthy place. If your drive home is peppered with feelings of inadequacy or other stings – revert to hot bath and start looking around for new friends.
  • time in nature. 15 minutes in a park at lunchtime will do. Long hike where you might run into a fox or see hawks is even better.
  • keep beautiful artwork within view
  • wear soft clothing
  • spend time with a dog. They are masters of pleasure.

Once you’ve listed as many pleasurable activities and sensual delights that appeal to you – start to imagine how you might intertwine them to upgrade some not so pleasurable activities.

  • If you like the sun and woods – pack a blanket and laptop and complete some of your research/writing from outdoors
  • Bring your favourite tea to work with you
  • Play great music while you’re cleaning
  • If you know there’s a tough day of back to back meetings coming up – ask your child to draw a few surprise pictures to be placed in envelopes which you’ll open at different points throughout the day.

Anything to please and delight you. It’s an investment.


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