Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pleasures and Gratifications

I have always had a love of learning, and despite not going into the psychology field, I am very glad that I majored in it. As with most things in my life, I didn't have specific plan upon entering college. If I remember correctly, I chose my alma mater (Stetson University) because they had a good sports medicine program, and at that time, I was interested in maybe being a trainer. That lasted probably about halfway through the first semester of my freshman year. I don't think it's a coincidence that one of my first classes in the sports med track was Sports Psychology.

During my junior year, I still hadn't declared a major, so I went to the records office (or wherever they kept a list of the classes I had taken), asked for a copy of my class history, and decided my major right then and there based on which area I had taken most of my classes. This wound up being psychology. I loved every class I took, with the exception of the statistics class and my Senior Thesis class. Research was so boring to me, and I had the unfortunate experience of making all the necessary changes to my thesis as requested by my professor, only to have him give me a low B...despite following all of his recommendations! JERK!

I have continued with leisurely reading in this field since I graduated. Most of my reading has involved books on personal development, personality, spiritual growth, etc. A fairly new field in psychology is called Positive Psychology, headed by the very-famous Dr. Seligman. There is a link to his site, Authentic Happiness, on the right side of my blog. I bought his book, which has the same title, to learn more about this field. I want to write on many topics covered in his book, but this time, I would like to focus on Pleasures and Gratifications.

Dr. Seligman makes a distinction in his book between the above two aspects of happiness. Pleasures involve our more basic ways of acquiring happiness via the senses, which have a strong, immediate, and short-lasting emotional aspect. These would involve eating delicious chocolate, awesome sex, smelling your favorite perfume, a post-workout high, etc. Higher on the scale might be enjoying an expensive cognac or a luxurious spa package. It's very easy to see clearly that this is how the majority of people operate in first-world countries in order to improve their mood in day-to-day life, to the point of excess. Seligman points out, (and those of us who eat a whole tub of strawberry cheesecake ice cream already shamefully know) repeated exposure in a short time to the shame stimulus severely blunts the body's response. The fifth spoonful of Haagen-Dazs doesn't taste as heavenly as the first, and the last spoonful of the carton DEFINITELY tastes the worst. Yet we keep consuming, buying, eating, screwing, etc. trying to recreate that first high, without any downtime for our minds to reset.

In my own experience, I would even go as far to say that there's a negative component, as our increasing frustration with being unable to reach that initial high causes anxiety, frustration, and in some cases, maybe even desperation.

Whereas Gratifications, as Seligman calls them, require work to achieve, without any strong emotional component, yet we like doing them anyways.

Spending countless hours in cafes studying to receive Level 1 Certification for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test was definitely NOT a good time while I was doing it, but now I have the certificate on my shelf, and I feel better about myself for having accomplished it.

Giving 300 yen to the local homeless guy to buy a copy of The Big Issue (I urge everyone to support the homeless in their area by purchasing a copy, if available. Around half the cost of the magazine goes to the seller themselves) doesn't benefit me in any immediate way...I'm out 300 yen. Yet I have a much lighter feeling that last for a few days for supporting someone trying to better themselves. The articles are good, too, and I can use it to practice reading Kanji.

Seligman goes into much further depth in the chapter entitled, "Happiness in the Present," so I highly recommend purchasing the book if you are interested in learning more about the distinction and how to create more happiness in your life. The main point I want to emphasize with this post is the distinction between Pleasures and Gratifications. How many of them do you have in your life? Which group is more prevalent? I'm willing to bet the majority reading this, myself included, lean towards the Pleasures side of the spectrum.

How does filling your life with only the easy, quick fixes limit and inhibit you? How many of you reach for the cold slices of pizza in the fridge when taking a gourmet pizza-making course will help you learn more about cooking, ingredients, and improve self-sufficiency? I'm sure your homemade pizza would knock the socks off any delivery brand, if you applied yourself.

How many of you enjoy a parade of NSA relationships because you claim to dislike "baggage" and "drama" yet the real reason is YOU have the baggage and drama, and being with a supportive partner would force you to face these head-on? You dismiss the effort and time required for close intimacy when, in reality, the act of sex IS the most intimate act. You are showing all of you, in more ways than one, no matter what level of meaning you assign to it. How much more euphoric could the experience be with a supportive, caring, and committed partner?

I am a big proponent of the short-term, ego-soothing properties of "retail therapy". Sometimes buying a new purse or a new MAC lipstick really does the trick when you are feeling a bit down or bored. But when you open your bathroom drawer and dozens of tubes of lipstick fall out, some of them from 4 months ago and never opened, well, what is that really saying?

The media has told us that acquisition of "stuff" will make you happy and make you feel like you belong. Both of these factors, happiness and belonging-ness, are strong motivators, otherwise this type of advertising would fail horribly. You belong and feel happy, until the new model comes out. Then, you are left out again.

I would like you to reflect on your life and your behaviors for meeting your needs, and find ways that might be more satisfying from the Gratifications side of the spectrum. Your general level of mood will improve, you will have a positive effect on others around you and on your own self-development, and probably save some money! You will also allow your brain/nervous system time to reset so when you do have that second spoon of ice cream, it might just feel as rewarding as the first.

....but probably not the last spoon of the carton. That's gotta be Murphy's Law or something.