Life is difficult and we all have responsibilities that are dull, difficult, and sometimes, just plain depressing. These need to be balanced out with activities you enjoy. This is especially essential for those currently in unfulfilling careers or other lifestyle situations.
Sometimes just asking the simple question “how can I make this activity more enjoyable?” will lead to a beneficial insight, like listening to your favorite music or watching interesting videos or having foam fights to improve the experience of washing dishes.
The foundation of happiness and great mental health is pleasure. Pleasure can be defined as any positive emotion that you feel which is caused by any activity that you enjoy. The seeking of pleasure underlines everything that we do. Even when we decide to do an activity that we know will not be pleasurable in the short term (like those dishes or that job), we do it in the hope of it leading to an eventual outcome that will be pleasurable.
A life of pleasure is of course not the only thing required for great mental health and a satisfying life, but a life with little to no pleasure will lead to burn-out. Sadly, feeling less pleasure is one of the first symptoms of depression. Therefore, it is critical that pleasure be a respected part of your life.
One secret to happiness and good mental health is to understand what your favorite and most pleasurable activities are and know how to use them in order to increase the quality of your life. I have broken up the pleasurable things that make people happy into two categories. The categories are Regular Pleasures and Reward Pleasures.
In daily life, it is important to have a few standard pleasures that are practiced
regularly to make life enjoyable, but inorder to pull yourself towards growing as a person and achieving your greater goals, you need to create reward pleasures that you can only receive once you have earned them.
One of the deep problems of modern life is that many people are so used to getting what they want when they want it, that they will never experience the full pleasure that comes from a reward that they have worked to earn.
Up until 2008, there was a 40 year period where every year the rate of overall wealth in Western countries grew exponentially. Even with all the extra material wealth, compared to all previous generations, luxury item debts continued to climb ludicrously high. Even with all that extra wealth and all the extra luxury items, people overall had not become any happier and on the flip-side, over that same time period depression increased tenfold.
That is because the novelty of a fancy toy or experience that you did not work hard to obtain wears off quite quickly. You cannot live a non-challenging lifestyle and expect to feel intense pleasure.
However, if your toy or experience is an honest and fair reward based on what you have accomplished: Then the potential pleasure that comes from that reward once you receive it is much greater.
Have you ever worked really hard on a goal and found that when you finally finished it and gave yourself a reward, it felt so much better than it would normally? It can even be something simple. If you have been working hard on a project and your goal is to have it finished before dinner, doesn’t dinner often taste better when you know you have finished your goal?
What happens when you give yourself a reward before you’ve earned it? Well, it can still feel good temporarily but it doesn’t last anywhere near as long and you may start to feel anxious, stressed and guilty.
When you do reward yourself after finishing a goal, you tend to feel the pleasurable emotions of relaxation, excitement and freedom. Sometimes, you do need to just give yourself a short break, even if you haven’t finished your task, especially if you have started to fatigue and are becoming ineffective.
In this case, you want to set achievable mini-goals that you can reach before taking any short breaks, and have a simple plan made for what to do once you return to the task. Knowing that pleasure is the foundation of happiness, let’s look at how you can increase the total amount of pleasure in your life.
Finding The Pleasure Exercise:
Write out a list of your current regular pleasures (e.g. television shows, social engagements, sports, reading, hobbies, creative pursuits, etc.) in your life and your larger pleasures (e.g. new products, holidays, special events, etc.).
Then rank your regular pleasures in order of importance and plan how you could increase the time you spend on your favorites and decrease the time spent on ones that are not that enjoyable. Set aside specific time each week to sing, dance, play games and spend time with positive friends.
DO NOT participate in these activities in a half-baked way.
Fully focus and engage in them. Remove all possible distractions while you do them. With your larger reward pleasures, write down what important activities you need to accomplish first (and within what time frame, review goal setting chapter for more on this) before rewarding yourself with them.
Emergency Specific Pleasure Prompts:
As a general rule, the regular and reward pleasures system is a great method to keep life enjoyable. Unfortunately, sometimes people can fall into depressive and de-motivated moods where a goal focused pleasures system will be too difficult. The secret in this scenario is to create a list of pleasure prompts.
However, this can be hard for someone to do alone when they are feeling depressed. With patience and by asking the right questions, I can get even the most stuck person to create a list of at least a dozen things. Of course, having a trained professional to assist is a luxury most people don’t have when needed most.
There is a better option which is to act now! You should create your pleasure prompts list when you are feeling fine and continue to add to it whenever a new idea comes up. Ask friends and colleagues what they enjoy and if you enjoy them too, add it to the list. One of the advantages of modern technology is not only can we put our list on our phone so it will be with us wherever we go, we can also easily and quickly access video, audio and text when we need it.
Pleasure Prompts List and Set-up:
Right now, create a favorites list. Don’t think, just write. All you need is at least five in total. Write down 1-3 of your favorites in each of the following categories: songs, jokes, books (book passages), poems, videos/movies, sports, hobbies, sensory joys (bath, massage, intimacy, cooking), friends, games, dances. Keep this list in your wallet or electronically on your phone and make these options easily accessible.
Put your favorite songs, images or videos on your phone (or links for where they can be easily streamed), your favorite jokes, poems and books (or at least book passages) on your desk and in your phone. Have maps and apps for key places of interest. Keep special folders with cherished photographs and social activities to do alone or with friend’s.
As a general rule, avoid computer games and alcohol as they can be addictive and depressive in the medium to long term. Stick with prompts that normally inspire or rejuvenate you.
Even if you are not feeling inspired at the time, the principles of “acting now” and “movement” will lead to greater pleasurable momentum. The key is not to overthink it. If struggling, immediately scan your list and do the first thing you find that you can start without delay. That is why your list should always be with you and ready. When in doubt – open, scan, pick whatever seems easiest and begin!
The more you engage with the activity, the more effective it will be. If you’re going to listen to your favorite song, listen deeply or better yet, sing along as passionately as you can. Dance freely, read that poem out loud, make that bath just right, turn off the TV and your computer and put your phone on airplane mode and really talk, walk or play games with your friends, colleagues or kids if suitable and so on.
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