Flourishing consists of both “feeling good” and “doing good.” Learning more about pleasure, or “feeling good” can therefore help us thrive. In other words, feeling good is, well, good for you!
A Yale University researcher, Paul Bloom, has a theory of about pleasure based on the principle of essentialism. Essentialism refers to the fundamental nature of an object which determines its value to each person. Essentialism is believed to be an adaptive mechanism that has allowed humans to quickly categorize objects as valuable or dangerous. We quickly and early in life learn which stimuli will give us pleasure (a ripe peach, an attractive mate) or which we should avoid (a rotting carcass, sex with a family member), though some of life’s other pleasures may not necessarily enhance our survival (looking at a beautiful painting, drinking a fine glass of wine).
So, here are certain principles regarding pleasure and how you can increase your pleasure intentionally (note: these should all be done within your lifestyle and budget!):
- Status items – designer and name brands, luxury items and indulgences signal that we have a certain desirability by association with status objects. Even choosing something small like bottled water (arguably not one of life’s necessities) can be a status symbol and bring pleasure. You don’t have to own such status items; experiencing the work of a master (artist, musician) also will bring pleasure.
- See or touch awe-inspiring celebrities or public figures – other people’s “magic” can make you feel special as well. Did you know you can see Galileo’s finger in a bell jar in a museum in Florence, Italy?
- Food – seek out the food that you believe will bring you pleasure. Because you’re right. It will. Chocolate always does the trick for me.
- Attire – dress in a way that shows your value to others. Yes, it can be worth the effort sometimes.
- Mate – find an attractive and desirable matee. Even better if that person has “status” or is someone you love (OK, that’s in the DUH category)
- Make a choice – Simply choosing an item or having it given as a gift increases its value to the owner. Second guessing yourself decreases pleasure, so avoid that behavior if you can. Actually, having too many choices decreases pleasure so avoid those stores with 1000 choices of a single item.
- Keep things – the longer you keep something, the more valuable it is to you over time, and thus the more pleasure it will bring. This is especially true for sentimental objects, so keep those safe and visit them on occasion for an enjoyable trip down memory lane. I have an unworn suit that has been in my closet for so long it must be worth a fortune by now.
- Exert yourself for something worthwhile– the more effort you put into any of the above, the more you will enjoy and appreciate it. For example, if you worked hard to get that hot mate or fancy car, you’ll enjoy them more than if they just fell into your lap, so to speak. If you use your talents/strengths to accomplish the task, and the more meaningful the task, the more you’ll enjoy the process and the outcome. This is the “do good” part of thriving. So, help the little old lady across the street and make sure you put a lot of effort into it!
- Savor the good memories and good stuff – when choosing how to interpret an event, choose a favorable, positive interpretation over a negative one (yes, it is a choice). Savor the positive emotions from that experience by taking a trip down memory lane or telling the story to an appreciative audience. Focus on the highlights or the best parts of the memory and imagine in detail what it was like in those best moments.
In conclusion, the essentialism theory for pleasure reveals how to maximize our pleasure out of the every day objects and people in our lives. The pleasure can be related to simply owning, touching, seeing or eating something, or can be taken a step further by using effort to obtain or accomplish something. The latter can be further enhanced by using one’s strengths to accomplish a meaningful task. You can use these principles to proactively plan a great day for yourself. Enjoy!
Source: Paul Bloom, How Pleasure Works, 2010, WW Norton & Co, New York.