Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pleasure: Seeking It From Within

Writing a post on pleasure has made me think of so many things: the work ethic I grew up with, how puritanical America can seem when viewed with ex-pat eyes, and 'The American Dream' – and whether it is giving us any pleasure in the end. But I didn't want to write something about society as a whole – I wanted to think about day-to-day life and how I (or any of us) can experience pleasure more often. Pleasure comes with all sorts of good and bad connotations – how to know the difference between pleasure that is harmful and pleasure that is helpful?

What it comes down to for me is the difference between internal and external pleasure. Let me explain (because I know this sounds weird!). There are so many times in our life when we're looking for something outside of ourselves to make us feel good. Look at anything – work, relationships, food, friends, family. When I am praised by someone else it gives me pleasure, when I am loved by someone else it gives me pleasure. However, when this is what you seek, it's a losing game. I think that's because you're starting from a position of fear – and looking for something else or someone else to make you happy.

Even with something as confining as a job, I've noticed that when I seek out the things that I really like to do and try to steer it in the direction of things that excite me (including taking a job in the first place to begin with), I get much more pleasure from what I am doing. When early on in my career I took jobs because I thought that they were what I should be doing or that I'd impress someone by doing them, I got very little pleasure from the actual job.

It's when you realize that you've got the ability to create your own pleasure and that you don't need to get it from someone else or somewhere else that suddenly things feel lighter and easier. We didn't know it, but we already had the ruby slippers and the ability to get back to Kansas all along.

Seeking pleasure from within can be summed up in one of my favorite lines that Geneen Roth has written (from Women, Food and God), "We don't want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes.We want to come home to ourselves." Again, the theme of pleasure linked with coming home. With what's within us already. Finding pleasure in food and relying on food for pleasure are two very different things.

Jealousy is my clear sign that I've strayed down the path towards seeking external pleasure. I know when I am feeling hurt by someone else's actions (that really have nothing to do with me) or when I suddenly feel like someone isn't meeting my needs then I need to re-think what is it I'm actually looking for. Trying to gain approval or acceptance from someone else is a dangerous way to live – it essentially boils down to controlling that which we have no control over.

Letting all of the uncontrollable things in life get in the way of finding pleasure would mean being miserable pretty much all of the time (since there are far too many of them). But when you can rely on yourself to generate pleasure, then you can suddenly stop worrying about everyone else. Not to say this is easy. I fall into the trap of trying to control things around me on a daily basis – trying to make sure that I stay padded against reality. A classic control freak.

But I'm working on it. With the wedding, for example. I'm working like a dog right now on all the details. But I am enjoying a lot of things I'm doing (perhaps despite appearances). And I've made a pact with myself that even though I'm working really hard right now, when the wedding week commences and my friends and family start descending upon London, I am going to stop worrying about all the little details, just let go and enjoy the time I have with them. Because I'm never going to get that time back.

Seeking pleasure from within isn't easy all the time, but in the end it's much more, well, pleasurable. But even more so, reliable.

This post is part of the Self-Discovery Word by Word series. To read more about it (or participate) check out Joy Tanksley's kick-off post for this month's word. She'll be posting a round-up at the end of the month.

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3 comments:

  1. Very insightful and though-provoking piece! Thank you so much for participating!

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  2. Ruby slippers and hot fudge sundaes, this post made me want to ease on down the road. What fun analogies and great way to bring them together!

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  3. @Joy - Thanks and great word this month - it was a good challenge!

    @The Writing Goddess - perhaps I was inspired by reading the Wizard of Oz over Christmas this year. Did you know that the slippers aren't actually red in Baum's book?

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