How to maximise your pleasure and joy
Happiness. What everyone is striving for. The end goal of everything we do. A new car, a new hot girlfriend, a handsome husband, money, the latest extreme sport, the latest fashion? Are they goals in themselves? Likely not. What are we seeking in those things or people? Happiness.
How do we enjoy each moment? How do we heighten our pleasure? How do we feel truly alive? There are many ideas on this, here I shall discuss what has worked for me – how I went from a depressed, angry person to a happy joyful one.
The body is not a machine; it is your temple
I think there is a current tendency to treat the body like a machine. This trend is everywhere, from TV to medicine to the gym to the club. Do X reps on this to build your bench press to Y kilograms. Put this in your body to offset that pain, do this to counteract that disease. Put this in your body to have fun.
The body is not a machine, although it might work like one. It is your temple. While the body isn’t all of you, it is a major portion of you and your life. Yet many people neglect it for other things – their career or a good night out perhaps. You have to take care of it. This is hard to do, and Im guilty of this once in a while, but you have to make an effort.
This is basic common sense, but given how many unhealthy, unfit people there are out there, and how many people who abuse their bodies, its worth stating again. Take care of your bodies.
Health is pleasure; there is no point in having the other luxuries if you are not healthy to enjoy it.
Now, on to the fun part. The body is also a source of great pleasure. It gives you pleasure, and is a source of happiness. Read on.
Looking in the wrong places
When I was just out of my teens, I used to look for happiness in all kinds of ways. These included some of the extremes that many others went to – drugs, sex, alcohol, fast cars and extreme sports. (I guess boxing and being punched in the head counts as an extreme sport – I’ve never tried bungee jumping or anything.)
In my early twenties I tried a few more mature activities – a stable girlfriend, romantic cruises, walks along the beach, jazz music, a night at the lounge with the boys.
Did they work? Sure. They raised my happiness, but it is all temporary. People have a set point of happiness. Certain events and possessions, like an unexpected windfall, might raise or lower them for a moment, but soon we will return to our set point. The key is to raise the set point altogether.
Why do these only work temporarily?
They make you feel truly alive
There is a common theme throughout all I have described above. Almost everyone has tried to find pleasure and happiness through these. They all make you feel alive, that you are doing something extraordinary. You feel vibrant and alive and time seems to warp. Sometimes time goes by real slow. Sometimes you wonder where the hours went.
I’m not saying all they are bad (drugs are); but the rest are fine – provided you do it within the law, and in moderation.
The reasons people feel some experiences are great or better then others are because:
a) It is exclusive – doesnt happen often.
b) Conditioning: Someone (society, TV, peer pressure) told them it feels good.
c) The sensation is great.
There is probably more, but they are all similar. These reasons, which are artificial distinctions made up in your mind, stand between you and bliss. Remove them, and you would be as happy washing your dishes as you are making love!
Lets deal with exclusivity first. This feeling is an artificial distinction! You have to realise that every moment is special and exclusive, for once it is gone, it will never return. We just feel certain moments are special because we dont experience it that much, or we paid much money to get it, or it only happens once a year, or something. That distinction is something that is made up by your mind.
Next, the conditioning. What is the difference between feeling the keyboard and mouse on your fingertips and feeling the skin of your lover with your fingertips?
What is the difference between the wind when you are in your garden and the wind when you are speeding down the road in the latest half a million dollar convertible sports car?
These are all artificial distinctions as well. You think it feels better when you are feeling the wind in a sports car for a myriad of reasons – Social status, how rare it is, how much better your car is next to the other cars on the road, how many hot blondes look at you as you speed by
Would it still feel as good if you sped down the freeway in the same car everyday for ten years and the same blondes look at you for ten years? I would get sick of it, but then again Hugh Hefner doesnt. I dont know. (I have read hes actually depressed, though, if it makes any guys feel better.)
Finally, the actual sensation you experience. For most people, certain sensations are more pleasurable then the others. A soft silk sheet will feel better then a rough one. Even in sex, everyone has certain preferences in partners, positions, and so on.
Again, these sensations are artificially created by your mind! There will be people who like rough sheets and not silk sheets. There will be women who prefer Jack Black over Brad Pitt, and on and on!
Your mind has slotted certain things into the great category, some into the superb category and others into lousy, never again! and so on. Other people will have slotted the same things into different categories. There is no definite rule on what is good or what is bad.
Happiness and pleasure all begin in your mind
Others have attributed certain qualities to certain acts. For example, some people might attribute intimacy to sex, and thus they take pleasure from the intimacy and not the actual act of sex itself. Others derive pleasure from sex just from the physical sensations. Again, that is something totally made up by your mind.
If you like the intimacy of sex, imagine suddenly remembering that he or she has cheated on you in the past. Most likely the pleasure will disappear right away. But what has changed? Nothing, except your perception of the event, inside your mind!
One way of getting happiness and pleasure
So: If all happiness and pleasure begins in the mind; how do you get into that state of mind? By opening up all your senses and feeling with all your body.
Let me explain further. I believe that skydiving gives you a rush because for those few exquisite moments your senses have all been flipped to maximum. It forces you to use all your senses. It opens your senses in a way that they’ve never been used before in your daily life – and therefore they feel special to you.
Feel great washing your dishes!
If you open all your senses all the time, wont that have the same effect? All the colours will look more vibrant. Every sensation will be fresh. As you wash your hands, youll feel the water over your skin as youve never felt it before. Itll feel the same as the water from a waterfall in an exotic holiday location. Youll feel the heat in summer, youll feel the cold in winter, youll feel everything that much more keenly, and enjoy it thoroughly.
Note: This doesnt apply to something physically painful.
Raise your base set point of happiness
Remember the base set point of happiness that I talked about? The best way to increase happiness is not to seek temporary pleasures. Instead, I recommend using meditation to raise your happiness set point. Out of all the methods Ive tried, meditation has had the best effect.
Ive read countless other methods, but cannot write about them for I have not tried them enough to recommend them. When I get around to them, and they work, rest assured that you will know about them.
How about heightening pleasure?
Now, on to pleasure gained from temporary events. There is nothing wrong with those, despite all weve talked about. There are many ways of enhancing that happiness.
In an older series on overcoming pain, the main theme was to remove yourself from the pain. It is not you, it is something inside you. Observe it. Make the shift from I am in pain to There is pain inside me. Note the effect it has on your body, note what if feels like; just watch it, dont judge it, or react to it. (Reread the series if you dont know what Im talking about).
I did a little experiment – I tried doing this to pleasurable sensations. To my surprise, it actually increases the pleasure.
But try this next time – no matter what it is: It is separate from you. Try to see it not as I am feeling great!, but rather There is joy inside my body. See if that works for you, and if it doesnt, well, youre still having a good time!
This too shall pass
This too shall pass, is a quote that is often said to someone who is in pain or suffering. It does help to lessen the pain. By telling the person the pain will not last forever, and that it is only fleeting, the person no longer identifies with the pain. It is another way of helping them make the shift from I am in pain and There is pain inside me.
How about applying the same to happiness gained from temporary events? For example, if you see a flower and it is beautiful, do you feel the urge to uproot it and take it home with you? If you see a beautiful sunset, do you wish to capture it with your camera so it lasts longer? If you find a dream lover for one night, do you try to keep him or her forever?
The beauty fades when you try to capture it forever. If you look at the flower youve taken home everyday, you might get sick of it, or you might no longer feel it is beautiful. You might call it being desensitised, or have another theory about why this is so; but I think that trying to hold on to happiness detracts from it.
Knowing that happiness and pleasure gained from temporary events will pass soon allows you to open up your senses and enjoy being in the moment. Your attention is no longer being diverted by thinking of how to capture it, you simply let everything be, and the joy deepens.