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Challenges in Creating Pleasurable Experiences

DSC_0088Experiencing painful situations is a part of life. One of the ways people cope with the sadness and pain is by balancing those experiences with joyful or pleasant ones. It’s like having a bank account. You make deposits of pleasurable experiences so you can draw on them when life is hard.

Emotionally sensitive people can easily get worn down by difficult situations, so creating pleasure is an important means of coping.

Sometimes it seems that many people wait for positive experiences to happen, to come to them. Working to create happiness doesn’t seem to make sense. But creating positive experiences is one of the best ways to increase your resiliency or ability to bounce back from tough times.

For some,  pleasant experiences involve others. Parties, getting together for dinner, going to a play, hiking a trail, or playing tennis may be activities they would enjoy. Others might prefer reading a book, playing with a pet, or exploring nature. Volunteering is a positive experience for many.

To gain the most from positive experiences, it’s important to be mindful of them. Being fully present and participating fully will help you take in the sounds, sights, sensations, and textures of your experience. This means letting worried thoughts about the activity pass on through–just label them and let them go.  If you find yourself withdrawing into any thoughts, bring yourself back to the activity.

Savoring positive experiences is a way of holding onto them.  Because the mind tends to review and remember less pleasant experiences but tends to let go of pleasant experiences, finding a way to get the most from positive experiences is important. Savoring could be telling others, making a scrapbook, or writing about the experience. Savoring may be different for different people.

So if people know that creating positive experiences can help with coping with difficult situations, what keeps them from doing it? What gets in the way of creating pleasure?

I just don’t have the energy. Emotionally sensitive people go through the day experiencing strong feelings about most everything that happens.That’s exhausting! When you are sad or emotionally tired, the natural urge for most is to not move, stay in bed, or sit and do nothing. The idea of  engaging in an activity is not appealing and probably sounds like its too much trouble.

But doing something pleasurable may be the best way to replenish your energy. Finding a way to smile or laugh is emotionally rejuvenating.

I shouldn’t have to create joy. Some people believe that if they have to work at creating happiness it doesn’t count.  They wait for joy to come to them. Sometimes they believe that if a certain event happens, then they will be happy.  If I get the promotion, then I’ll be happy. If I find someone to love me, then my life will be good. The problem is that either what is wished for doesn’t happen or it does but doesn’t bring the desired results. In fact, what we know is that levels of happiness most often don’t change based on events. Doing pleasurable activities on a regular basis is likely to be more effective.

Some joyful experiences happen spontaneously. But being willing to create opportunities to feel joy increases the likelihood you’ll experience it stronger and gives you more control.

 I can’t afford it.  Sometimes when people think about creating pleasure, they think of vacations to faraway places or going to an expensive restaurant. Actually, small pleasures don’t have to cost at all. Enjoying the sunset or the flowers in the park can be peaceful and joyful.

It’s selfish. Emotionally sensitive people are often very concerned about what is just or fair. Some individuals think that if others are sad or hurt, they should not feel pleasure. Some may also believe that thinking of their own pleasure is selfish. Creating pleasure is actually part of self-care. In order to continue to be compassionate with others it’s important to take care of your own emotional health.

What if  it doesn’t work?  Like most people, the emotionally sensitive suffer when they have expectations that are not fulfilled. But the emotionally sensitive tend to lose hope easily, becoming discouraged that anything will change – though they can also be persistent about what they are passionate about. When they put effort into an interaction or activity, it can be crushing if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes the emotionally sensitive stop investing in pleasurable activities to protect themselves.

What if it doesn’t last? Sometimes emotionally sensitive people don’t like to feel joy because they know or fear it will end. The idea of losing the joy mars the positive experience. Some believe it’s better to never feel joy than to go through trying to hold onto it and/or losing it.

Joy feels uncomfortable.  Sometimes joy is so unfamiliar that it feels strange. People tend to seek out the familiar and stay in their comfort zone so an emotion that feels foreign might be avoided. For others, maybe joy is associated with a negative experience. Maybe every time they were happy something negative happened.

Knowing the reasons you struggle to create positive experiences can help you develop a plan to overcome the obstacles.  Finding ways to create joy will benefit your emotional well-being as well as your overall health.


Creative Commons License photo credit: NoHoDamon

Challenges in Creating Pleasurable Experiences

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2017). Challenges in Creating Pleasurable Experiences. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 30 Nov 2017
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