Many people live each day of their lives seeking pleasure but never really finding true happiness. Just think about the things you love doing for pleasure when you have time for yourself – drinking with friends or gossiping, having extra-marital sex or cheating on your partner, shopping until you drop dead and in the process denting your credit card or eating into the family’s savings…
If you dig deep into the things you do to find pleasure, you would be shocked to realise how much time and effort you spend;
yet happiness remains elusive. It’s like chasing a dream and never catching it because it’s just that – a dream. Think about your life – are you spending too much time chasing pleasure and not really finding fulfillment? Are you able to make a distinction between pleasure and gratification? If you are not, it is likely your pursuit of easy pleasures might be hindering your fulfillment.
Most people often choose pleasure (instant amusement) over gratification (longterm satisfaction or fulfillment). For example, given a choice between reading a good book or watching a soap opera, most people would choose the latter, yet research shows that the average mood while watching a soap opera is mild-depression, while reading a book gives you better memory retention and positively challenges your mind. Another example is choosing to spend a Saturday night out in a noisy pub with acquaintances instead of spending a quiet evening with your family or those who really matter in your life. In your thinking, pleasure is found among multitudes in public places and not at home with family. While you may want to convince yourself there is pleasure to be found in some of the things you do, sometimes the results are almost predetermined – a reckless life, drunkenness, a hangover the following day and a huge dent on your credit card or family savings.
When the clubbing is over, a lot of regrets and unhappiness follow, probably leading to depression. Researchers now think that increasing incidences of depression in our society are partly due to over reliance on lazy routes to happiness. The world we live in today has created so many shortcuts to pleasure that we are all being lured to walk that direction to find happiness – TV, movies, social media, drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, money and clothes to name a few. A life walked through these shortcuts sets us up for depression, and sometimes tragedy, instead of giving us the pleasure we seek. While pleasure has a place in our lives, when you chase it to the exclusion of everything else, it can leave you feeling a little empty.
Instead of following destructive routes to find pleasure, there are alternatives to be found right where you are and in your everyday life. All you need to do is find your purpose in life and focus on that. This is called finding your ‘flow’. It occurs when you are doing something that focuses your attention, gives you a sense of being absorbed and creates a feeling of transcendence.
The good news is that any activity can lead to ‘flow.’ Listening to music, engaging in your favourite hobby or sport, spending time with people who matter to you, or contributing to society in some way…
When you are totally absorbed in an activity or experience, or have a feeling of deep effortless involvement, your sense of self vanishes and time stops – all of which contribute towards feelings of gratification and fulfillment. Don’t look far to find your ‘flow.’ Make a list of the things you do that give you a sense of focus and fulfillment. In this list you will find your ‘flow.’ Now ask yourself how often you spend time doing activities in your ‘flow’? Are your pleasure-seeking activities in balance with your ‘flow’? Do you find joy and fulfillment doing them?
Borrowing some tips from Mark Vernon, a writer, broadcaster and journalist who has written books on friendship, wellbeing, God, spirituality, science and philosophy of the everyday, I have come to understand how to create feelings of wellbeing in my life. I never chase empty pleasures anymore because I know I am surrounded by happiness and all I need to do is open my eyes to see, my ears to hear and my senses to feel. Let me share the top seven of the tips that I have found very useful.
1. Don’t focus on finding happiness, but on how you live your life. Happiness is a by-product of a life lived well. This is a balanced life.
2. Don’t ask yourself what you enjoy; ask yourself what is most meaningful to you. You may enjoy a glass of wine but what meaning does it have to you?
3. Prioritise your life around what you love. Many people say friends and family are the most important things, then move far away from them. As for me, my family is very important and any time spent with them – whether jointly or individually – gives me great fulfillment.
4. Don’t be afraid to be spiritual. In everything in life, human beings have always searched for what lies beyond. This is what spirituality is all about – seeking a higher power or authority to ascribe to. My higher being is God whom I seek every day in prayer and meditation.
5. Pain and struggle is not always bad, and sometimes might be very good. Ask any parent: the agony of childbirth and raising children is, usually, meaningful agony. Children bring so much meaning to life that you easily forget all the pain and challenges.
6. Find regular time to contemplate the world and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Less is more in the art of happiness. Forget all that stuff media and advertising lure you to. Find your own happiness with whatever you have – it does not matter if it’s not much but remember the simple pleasures of life are free – the air we breathe, the sun, moon, and starry sky…
7. Don’t read too many self-help books. You will end up living the programme, not your life! You know those diet books and ‘feel-good’ guides that tell you how to find happiness? You could spend all your life living what somebody else has prescribed and not what you really want, or are capable of being.