One major theme in positive psychology research is the pleasant life.
The pleasant life refers to simply experiencing pleasantness often, or having as many positive emotions as one can.
This idea of doing whatever we have to do to be happy can seem a little self-centered and irresponsible.
Fortunately there is an important distinction between experiencing simple pleasure and experiencing gratification.
Pleasures are those external and momentary experiences such as a good meal, having sex, or smelling perfume. Pleasures often spike our positive emotions in the moment, but are fleeting and don’t provide lasting happiness.
Positive psychology would emphasize we strive for more gratifying experiences. Those activities that offer more growth and allow us to use our strengths. These may not always even be pleasurable, and can be challenging and strenuous, such a mountain climbing, studying for a test, or doing a job well done on some task.
These activities offer more lasting positive emotions and are not necessarily based on physical needs and ephemeral sensations.
Be conscious of your pleasures
Incorporating pleasure into your life is still important, but we must be aware that watching a sitcom or eating chocolate cake will not have an enduring impact.
This is because we adapt to simple pleasant experiences, and over time they loose their impact. It’s as if we build a tolerance for pleasure.
However, there are strategies to help us get the most from pleasant experiences.
Research done by Sonja Lyubomirsky shows how activity can be deliberately incorporated into our life to induce more positive emotion.
- Variety – Pleasure in varied intervals can be effective. A wide variety of pleasant activities is also helpful to have. Try and be more spontaneous and sporadic.
- Timing – We can time our pleasures or delay the experience until we really, really want it.
- Surprise – Being surprised by pleasant experiences is more impacting. Generate surprises by getting someone an unexpected gift or other unexpected kind act.
- Attention – We can try and hold it in our mind and appreciate it, or learn to really savor the experience.
It seems the idea of delayed gratification has some implications when it comes to sensory pleasures.
It takes will-power to just eat one bite of cake and really savor the flavor, just as it’s tough to pass up other mindless physical pleasures.
Though, little by little, learning to delay our immediate pleasures offers a chance to experience more genuine opportunities of positive emotion. Furthermore, working to find what gives us gratification and engaging in these activities provides a clear path to more happiness.
Photo credit: Noize Photography