Most of us want a happy life. When we imagine what that life looks like we often see ourselves relaxing by a beach or driving expensive cars or traveling to exotic places, in short, we see ourselves in pleasurable situations.
Pleasure is a feeling of contentment that one achieves whenever information in consciousness says that expectations set by biological programs or by social conditioning have been met. The taste of food when we are hungry is pleasant because it reduces the physiological imbalance. Resting in the evening while passively absorbing information from the media, with alcohol or drugs to dull the mind overexcited by the demands of work, is pleasantly relaxing.
However, pleasure is fleeting. It is not stable. Once the activity that brings pleasure is performed you return to your daily life without any growth or change.
But they (pleasurable activites) do not produce psychological growth. They do not add complexity to the self. Pleasure helps to maintain order, but by itself cannot create new order in consciousness.
The goal is to have a happy life and not happy moments. When we recall happy times from our past, we seldom remember that evening spent watching television, rather, what we think back to are moments which brought some kind of reward to our life.
These events would be classified as enjoyable events.
Enjoyable events occur when a person has not only met some prior expectation or satisfied a need or a desire but also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something even unimagined before.
Enjoyable experiences are akin to accomplishments. Accomplishment requires effort which results in long term effect because through this effort we shape our lives and our self. While pleasure can be felt without any effort, hence why when the act is over with, so is the pleasure.
The following are some of The Elements of Enjoyment according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
- Enjoyment can be derived from a challenging activity that requires skill. An example of this can be something physical like a game of tennis or something mental like reading a book. Or even the activity of socializing can fall under this element. An easy way to find something challenging is to participate in a competitive activity.
- Merging of action and awareness is another way to derive enjoyment. This is when all your attention is absorbed in a particular activity, to the point, that you may even lose the sense of time. This can be described as entering a flow state, the kind that a rock climber may or a mother with her daughter could.
- Enjoyment also involves clear goals and feedback. However, the goals cannot be trivial otherwise it will not require much skill or attention. The goals must be something that is just outside of your comfort zone which will cause you to concentrate and challenge you to achieve something meaningful.
This often works like a loop where an activity that requires skill demands your attention and awareness which causes you to aim for a goal which, once achieved, results in growth but also a new goal which further requires effort and concentration in order to meet this new standard.
Of course, pleasure has its time and place in life however an overindulgence of pleasure, which seems like a real issue in our society currently, will not help you to improve yourself or your life. Rather the pursuit of enjoyment can shape your life to be one of meaning and happiness in which you find pleasure as well.
Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
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