Just a Little Taste
Underliving people think that pleasure is an antidote to pain. They’re fooled by the short-term relief that pleasure offers. Like the subject of Sia’s song, Chandelier, they “throw ‘em back till” they “lose count.” But swinging from the chandeliers isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; things are worse in the morning.
Pain comes in an endless variety of subtle shades, but the primary colors are physical, psychological, and relational. Many people, when the canvas of their life is thus painted with hunger, rage, loneliness, fatigue, stress, or boredom, start looking for a little feel-good. They use money, sex, drugs, rage, and self-pity to alleviate their distress. But the ensuing wash just leaves a streaky brown mess.
According to Dr. Martin Seligman, studies show that pleasure contributes little to satisfaction. Pleasurable experiences, when used to self-medicate, are short-lived with diminishing returns. Like the seventh bite of ice cream (according to Seligman’s research), the thrill quickly fades. Ask an addict to describe their most pleasurable high, and they’ll usually tell you about the first one. Ensuing trips never matched that first one—but they kept trying!
The pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake is a setup. Like games of chance, the odds are stacked. The game is fixed. One cannot beat the math (or science) no matter how hard one tries. It’s like the rope dangling over the irrigation canal at Eastern Montana College. Years ago, some enterprising fraternity brothers hung a rope on a sturdy tree branch over the canal. Since the boys were students of engineering, they determined proper rope placement so that the only way to successfully return to the bank was on the very first swing. If the swinger hesitated, then energy dissipated until their pendulum ended over the water. Kerplunk. The lads practiced and became adroit at the exercise. Then they invited the girls over.
After demonstrating the ease of the maneuver, they challenged many a young coed to try the swing. The girls mostly ended up wet—which was the unspoken object of the game. It didn’t take long for the female population to connect the dots. Those frat boys were up to no good—it was a setup. Soon, as word spread, the connivers couldn’t recruit a fresh victim.
If only the word would spread that pleasure cannot cure pain—no matter the alluring promises of pimp, pusher, or purveyor of vice! It’s a setup.
The reason pleasure doesn’t deliver can be explained in terms of a continuum. At the start of the continuum is pain. At the end is pleasure. But two additional middle stages are absolutely necessary in this algorithm. Skip either one and the truncated process becomes an unhealthy perversion. What pain is supposed to do is inspire action. If one places a hand on a hot stove, the pain communicates that one should take action and move that hand.
But just any old action won’t do. Proper action leads to accomplishment. Pleasure, then, follows and becomes the right response to accomplishment. For example, commit to another person and enjoy the honeymoon, or get the promotion at work and enjoy the celebratory toast, or manage personal finances and enjoy the vacation. Pain—action—accomplishment—pleasure: that’s the legitimate process.
Parents, take note and teach this to your kids. Get them to do something if they’re uncomfortable or distressed. Reward effort. For instance, save soda pop and fun meals for the weekends, after a full week of school and chores. Then they’ll grow into adults who know how to celebrate actions that lead to accomplishments. Remember, action is the correct response to pain and pleasure is the correct outcome of accomplishment.
People who interrupt the process, who self-medicate, rob themselves of their own personal development.
Do you want more information on how to manage discomfort and achieve a more fulfilling life? Check out Authentic Man School: A Practical Guide for Next-Level living. Invest in yourself—it’s a lot cheaper than futile attempts to mask the pain.
The real danger for unproductive men, unsuccessful men, is that, in their dearth of effective positive mentoring, they cluster and create a culture based on their ignorance. A poverty mindset, whether manifested in city slum or country wood, is one where people find a comfort zone beneath their privilege. They underlive their lives, accepting “fate,” even if their experience is fraught with great suffering. In desperate dullness, they plod along.
The pain and dissatisfaction of this kind of life is fertile ground for self-medication strategies.
Affirmation of the Week: I intentionally use discomfort to fuel my resolve to solve problems. I routinely achieve positive results. Then, I celebrate!
Resolve and solve, believe and achieve, motivate and celebrate—as a high-performance person, that’s how I roll.