Difference Between Enjoyment and Pleasure

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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How To Have Optimal Experience In Life

In his book, Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes Optimal Experience in the following way:

It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt–sails, hull, wind, and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins. It is what a painter feels when the colors on the canvas begin to set up a magnetic tension with each other, and a new thing, a living form, takes shape in front of the astonished creator. Or it is the feeling a father has when his child for the first time responds to his smile. Such events do not occur only when the external conditions are favorable, however: People who have survived concentration camps or who have lived through near-fatal physical dangers often recall that in the midst of their ordeal they experienced extraordinary rich epiphanies in response to such simple events as hearing the song of a bird in the forest, completing a hard task, or sharing a crust of bread with a friend.

What can be concluded from such a statement is that the best moments, the most optimal moments in our lives are not passive ones. The times where you relax and do nothing can be pleasurable but rarely do we look back at such times with fondness and memory. Instead, the opposite is what we recall. The times where we sacrificed, worked hard, stretched ourselves physically and mentally to achieve a goal. These character-defining moments are what gives our lives richness and thus makes these experiences optimal.

Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.

“Make” is the keyword. It means we have to actively pursue tasks that are challenging, which make us uncomfortable and the accomplishment of such tasks would result in growth.

For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat this own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.

An important component to achieving optimal experiences is understanding what you care for and what doesn’t matter to you. You cannot rely on society to determine your rewards and punishments because you may simply not care for what other people find important. So, the pursuit of something that has little value in your life will not provide you with optimal experiences even though it may test you physically or mentally.

To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its reward and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances. This challenge is both easier and more difficult than it sounds: easier because the ability to do so is entirely within each person’s hands; difficult because it requires a discipline and perseverance that are relatively rare in any era, and perhaps especially in the present. And before all else, achieving control over experience requires a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.

The main thing to understand about the optimal experience is that it may not be pleasant as you experience it. When you truly push your body physically to new heights, pain will be associated with that struggle. Or when you consistently put yourself in uncomfortable positions you really test your mind and force it to adapt but during that task, the feeling of being uncomfortable, of quitting, of the easier things you could be doing instead will be prevalent in your mind. That resistance is something you have to deal with.

Getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful. But in the long-run optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery–or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life–that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably experience.

The aim then is to pursue enjoyment and not pleasure. Pleasure can be hedonistic and is often temporary where after the pleasurable act is over, that sensation or feeling fades. While enjoyment, which comes from optimal experiences, stays with you long after the act, it is this enjoyment we think back to, feel a sense of pride and are overcome with happy emotions when recalling what we have accomplished.


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Reflections: On Enjoyment

I have started to notice the seriousness of my thoughts and words. There is too much emphasis put on my future action or on past mistakes while not enough on just enjoying life. This seriousness could be seen as an attempt to correct the past or organize the future but either way, life is not that serious. I try to keep that in mind but every now and then I need to remind myself of this. Most of my problems aren’t really that serious. Most of my stresses aren’t that bad. Most of my issues are fixable.

So, just enjoy life.

The times I remember fondly are those spent with friends and family, not thinking about anything, not caring about anything, just being there, talking and laughing and not knowing that a something like time even exists. Who cares about the past in those moments or about the future, I’m just enjoying the brief moment I am here before it’s all over. The finiteness of life may sound like a serious topic but it can also be a constant reminder to just enjoy life, as much as you can, for life could be over really quick. Understanding that this life is finite, you can then appreciate the good times and make an effort to recreate those times as much as possible. Also, the things that trouble you are put into perspective through this understanding.

That’s the state of being I wish to be in, as much as possible. Loving the everydayness. Maybe I need to replace the seriousness of my thought with more of a childlike wonder. To be impressed easily. To imagine more. To observe and be in observation of the workings of life from the smallest of things to the biggest. Perhaps take a page out of Da Vinci’s book and make it a task of mine to learn something new every day. It does not matter what that thing is, it could be something as simple looking up the population of some country to learning how light travels from the eye to the brain. It’s the process of wonder that is important. That could allow you to let go of concerning thoughts about life and for a brief moment enjoy yourself like a child often does when he or she sees something new.

Curiosity. Wonderment. Imagination. Enjoyment. Fun. Happiness. Good times. All of these is what makes life worthwhile. These are the qualities and moments that need to be emphasized.

For what else is there to do in life? Work all day? Stress all day? Push yourself all day? To some people that might be ideal. In a way its heroic to take on more responsibility and fulfill it each and every time. I am not like those people. I have come to realize that. There are a handful of things I enjoy and there aren’t many things I like more than laughing with friends.

I seek the simple life. One that is not too busy. One that is not too rich. One that is not too easy. One that is challenging enough. A life that is worth my struggles and a life that is full of enjoyment. I would assume that I am not alone in this. I would go even as far as to say that this is the typical wish of most people. So, it is by this vision I rate my life. Cutting out the needless things that take me away from this enjoyment and adding those that bring me closer to this. In this manner, it is less about the future concerns and more about the present actions. All the while, I keep a healthy ratio of enjoyment and seriousness and if I am to favor one side over the other, I know I won’t go wrong if I were to pick enjoyment.