Pleasure is..*Gasp*…Good For You

And deep down we always knew this didn’t we? It’s a new year, and in the midst of everyone else’s desperate resolutions to deny themselves something vital in order to teach oneself a lesson (a convenient precursor to Ash Wednesday and Lent of course), my resolve is to make none of these resolutions. Yes, my resolve is to be happy and to enjoy myself because pleasure is good for you.

Oh no!! The world will end if we all took that tack, right? The Kantian imperative lives! Not so, says Blake Morrison of The Guardian. In his review of the book Sex, Drugs, and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure by Paul Martin, Morrison wonders why we’ve become so anti-pleasure oriented as a society when our forefathers and mothers indulged in pleasures far more  frequently with none of the horrific effects that our religious purveyors warned us against. Sure, sure, there are exceptions, but moderate use never harms anyone.  He writes:

The pleasure principle is, on the whole, a sound one, then: having what you like is fine so long as you don’t have too much of it in one go. But as a scientist by training, Martin is also keen to explain how the principle works in practice – the key being the way that pleasurable experiences release a neurotransmitter substance called dopamine in the nucleus accumbens region of the brain. The neurobiology is complex, but Martin keeps it bracingly simple, even when elaborating on terms such as anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure), acedia (aka accidie or taedium vitae) and ataraxia (a state of serenity). Numerous experiments with rats are cited. What they mostly illustrate is a truth that writers and philosophers arrived at a millennium or two ago: that pleasure and desire are different things, since the former can be satisfied but the second cannot.

He goes on to explain the pleasure of drugs, sex, and chocolate and how Martin’s book is a feast of pleasure in itself. I think I might have to buy this book, just for the cover alone (Morrison describes it in the article).

Our aim in life should be improvement. But why must improvement always mean denial in all areas? Why can’t indulgence also be an improvement? I think that we take our Puritan ancestors’ advice to heart way too much.  In conversation with friends, a discussion ensued about what teaches us more pleasure or pain? I’d like to think that pleasure could teach us just as much as pain does.  And in fact one could argue, as some do, that we learn in SPITE of pain not because of it. What think you?


3 thoughts on “Pleasure is..*Gasp*…Good For You

  1. Another good find MOI, and British too. To think we Brits have a reputation for coldness and reserve.

    As for philosophers and preachers who agonise over the virtues of agony, I doubt it earned them one more hour of happy life here below. What of the hereafter? If it’s populated by closet masochists, championing the value of pain as some kind of philosophical can opener, then I don’t think I’d want to be there anyway.

    One verbal quibble with Mr Morrison, or anyone else who enjoys the occasional quibble:
    “What they mostly illustrate is a truth that writers and philosophers arrived at a millennium
    or two ago: that pleasure and desire are different things, since the former can be satisfied but the second cannot.”

    I don’t think either of them can be satisfied, since they are both simply descriptive terms. A desire in an individual can be satisfied. The desire itself is simply a hankering after something. It’s satisfaction or otherwise is what happens next. Once you are satisfied, you will no longer have the desire. The desire itself is not sentient, and can therefore not be satisfied. It’s the same with pleasure. How much you can take is your call. The pleasure is just the enjoyable feeling.

    As a big chocolate fan, it’s always good to have one’s predilections approved by science. It’s good to be right occasionally, even if very occasionally. I think I’ll have a celebratory piece of chocolate and attend to my dopamine levels.

    A good resolution MOI. Make sure you have something or someone on hand to catch the drips.


  2. Two of Nathaniel Branden’s books, The Psychology of Self Esteem and The Psychology of Romantic Love argue that pleasure is the way we learn how to survive. It’s a very detailed explanation of how pleasure helps us develop as a human and a person. Both of those have given me a lot of help in conversations when others attack or dismiss the idea that pleasure is good and helpful.
    Anyway, I’d highly, highly recommend them for you as books for furthering your New Year’s resolution.

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