A Principle of Pleasure

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I’m supposed to be in reflective mode over the next week or so, thinking about my less desirable characteristics and how I could do better next year. Maybe it’s no coincidence I have devoted this month to clearing physical junk out my life. It seems like good preparation for clearing out my head. So I was interested to read something today about the experience of pleasure.

Working my way down through the daily Flyady email (now opened and studied at length as part of my daily routine rather than being routinely deleted) I was intrigued to read a testimonial from a lady talking about the challenge of change. She cited research done on pleasure which I found interesting, and I set out the relevant bit here:

I just read an article about the science of pleasure. (I love that science is studying this!) It said that there is actually a place in our brain that lights up when we experience pleasure and with the technology we have today, we can track it. In one experiment, a scientist hooked a guy up to the machine that can do this and gave his subject a drop of water on his tongue, then a drop of juice, alternating between the two. The subject’s brain lit up with the juice drops and not the water drops which was predicted. What was interesting was when the juice drops were given randomly not every other one, the brain lit up like a Christmas tree. That tells us we like to be surprised.

I rather liked the underlying message here. That constant search for undiluted pleasure and fun actually diminishes the sense of enjoyment we get from our activities. It’s been some time since I ranted about wanton materialistic consumerist habits, but it confirms what we all know anyway. Constant shopping, food, and material acquisitions are not what we need for real happiness.

Too much of something is not always good: a bit of self-denial and restraint are potentially much more beneficial. I can of course extrapolate from this to art and creativity. Limit materials and watch more interesting things happen.

I remember the days when I only really ever got presents (i.e. things I wanted) on my birthday or in December. I can remember the excitement of opening these, along with the occasional disappointments when it wasn’t quite what I set my heart on. The idea to me as a child that one day I would be able to go out and buy something I wanted as soon as I wanted it would have seemed like a dream. And conversely, the idea now that in April, say, I might see a book, but wait for 11 months for it to be given to me as a birthday present is quite extraordinary.

Times change, but not always for the better. Maybe a little more self-denial in the coming year would be no bad thing.

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