The Pleasant Life
‘Happiness’ can be an elusive and slippery concept. The majority of us know we want it but we probably mean slightly different things when we talk about it. Some might talk about ‘highs’ and ‘pleasure’, whilst others talk of a deeper ‘contentment’ or fulfilment that seems to go further than fleeting emotional happiness. Is one approach superior to another? As with most things in life, it’s all about balance.
In Positive Psychology distinctions are made between ‘The Pleasant Life’, ‘The Good Life’ and ‘the Meaningful Life’. Each approach has its pros and cons and offers its own unique value. Today I’ll be focusing on the value of ‘The Pleasant Life’ and I will explore the other two in the coming weeks.
What is The Pleasant Life?
The Pleasant Life is one that most of us delight in as it consists of bodily, sensory pleasures that are fun, comforting or relaxing. Enjoying delicious food and drink, a comfortable home, physical and/or sexual intimacy, entertainment or spa days are all classic examples of the Pleasant Life. There is nothing wrong with enjoying experiences that give you sensory pleasure and before we go any further I wholeheartedly admit I am a sucker for The Pleasant Life and all the joy it brings!
The catch with The Pleasant Life is that if we are focusing too much on activities that give us a sensory thrill we are investing in activities where the good feelings tend to be relatively short-lived. The Pleasant Life is often tied to the law of diminishing returns. For example if you travel all the time you can become more jaded and difficult to please as the novelty of various experiences wear off. The first mouthful of any meal is always the most delicious and the thrill of getting the newest iPhone tends to wear off after a few days.
The Pleasant Life can also be a route for escapism: to hide from our real feelings and desires by placating ourselves with indulgent sensory treats. This can seem like a great idea to begin with (who doesn’t love a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s?) but can leave you feeling empty and more miserable. Most of us know, deep down, when we’re indulging in an activity for the pure pleasure of it or when we’ve developed a compulsion to do the activity because we’ve developed an unhealthy craving for it.
How to make it work for you
The best way to play with The Pleasant Life is to use it as a way of anchoring yourself to the present moment and all there is to enjoy in it. Mindfulness practice is an excellent way to maximise your sensory experience and remain present. Instead of mindlessly inhaling a Crunchie bar in front of the TV why not do the following:
- Sit down with your favourite bar of chocolate in front of you. If that is still a Crunchie then good for you, but for the purpose of this exercise would probably go for something higher quality like Green and Black’s which has a higher cocoa content and a more intense flavour.
- Spend a couple of minutes just looking at what you’re about to eat. Pay attention to its colour, texture and any patterns or irregularities. Smell its gorgeous, chocolatey smell – is it sweet? Dark? Do you notice tones of fruit? Does it remind you of anything else?
- Take your first bite and pay attention. You may just want to hold that first bite on your tongue for a while and allow the flavours to seep in. Chew slowly. How does it feel? Once you swallow, what is the aftertaste like?
You might be thinking “ok Sally, this is all very well and good but that’s a pretty intense way of eating chocolate”. And that is the beauty of it. During the course of this exercise you are taking so much more time, care and attention over what it is you are enjoying. There are so many wonderful details that occur in our lives if we really take the time to slow down, use our senses and pay attention. People who practice mindful eating tend to eat less because they give their stomachs a chance to catch up with what they’re eating. By really noticing and paying attention to it they also need less of it to satisfy their appetite.
So yes, this is an invitation to eat some chocolate mindfully! Try it out and notice how different it is from those times when you might eat or drink to give yourself comfort, fill a void (boredom or otherwise) or because you ‘want to take the edge off’.
Here are some questions for reflection:
How do you participate in The Pleasant Life?
Do you rely too heavily on sensory pleasures to give you a short-term boost?
Are there pleasures you’re become de-sensitized to over time?
Do you give yourself enough time to enjoy sensory pleasures/self care?
What small activity can you start with to enjoy more deliberately and mindfully?
Participants of my ‘Flourish’ programme are learning how to live their lives more deliberately, with greater success and happiness. If you want to explore this or anything arising from this post, feel free to get in touch today.