Have you ever heard the expression, “You can have too much of a good thing.” There are so many sayings and phrases that we’ve listened to and internalized over the years that we probably have no idea which ones are swimming around in our subconscious. Collectively many people have similar beliefs and values, which are often what draws people together and conversely pulls people apart.
In terms of happiness and contentment, even if we understand that things don’t make us happy, there is this unconscious drive to acquire things as a way to create safety and security in life. We can all laugh at the sitcoms that make fun of neighbors trying to outdo each other with their lawn ornaments, but the truth is that on some level we all have some area of our lives where we might feel that if we just had a little more of whatever makes us happy that we would be even happier!
This problem is that there is a threshold, and at some point the happiness is slowly replaced by a feeling of dissatisfaction because the original thrill is gone. I liken it to the first time I went swimming off the Florida coast, where the water is very warm. At first it felt so wonderful, but then I found myself wanting to escape the constant heat and dowse myself in cold shower. At a certain point one desire is replaced with another.
The point is that we are constantly going from one extreme to another and with the desire of balancing our different experiences. I’m sure all of you have experienced the feeling of eating too much candy. It’s easy to indulge, especially when that happiness button has been switched on and we feel pleasure from some sweet treat. Who doesn’t want more of that?
Because we are human beings, we are in choice. But what we often mistake for happiness is pleasure. Because consumer culture is based on people overdoing it in one way or another, it takes a lot of focus and true motivation to avoid overdoing thing.
There is an interesting and subtle difference between contentment and pleasure. Contentment is something that is felt in the present, where there isn’t this yearning for the next thing. When you feel content and happy it’s most often a feeling that puts you in the moment. I know that when I’m writing a song, I’m completely engaged and I forget about time. I don’t feel like something is missing, instead I feel the abundance of what I’m bringing into the world through my own inspiration.
Pleasure is a great thing, but it seems that modern culture has created an imbalance in our ability to integrate the simple pleasures into our life. Processed foods have been enhanced to spark our desire for more. The backlash of deprivation as the way to a spiritual life has resulted in this feelings of guilt. We even have the common saying nowadays of “guilty pleasures.” It’s important to be aware of what we love and at the same time to find the motivation to avoid being caught up in constant pleasure seeking, which is basically looking to something outside of ourselves for feelings of contentment. In extreme cases this can lead to addiction, which is the polar opposite of being in choice.
The search for pleasure will always be there, but the problem now a days is that pleasure has become confused with happiness. Most of the current advertisements draw you in with promises of happiness after buying their product. The substances that can be ingested to produce good feelings will always be around, whether they are naturally occurring or synthetically produced. It’s not the drugs or the alcohol, or even the advertisements that are the problem. Regulation can put things out of reach, but what really needs to be healed is our relationship to pleasure so that we can be in choice. We can even be in choice to overdo it once in a while. That’s why most cultures include in the calendar, special days to overindulge and then days to clean up our act in some way. It’s human nature. But in a 24/7 culture where distinctions become blurred, especially with total access, it’s easy to become numb to our natural rhythms.
Contentment on the other hand is usually something that is self-generated, whether it is from a thought, an activity, a feeling of accomplishment or a job well done. It is the result of a way of being: productive, patient, kind, helpful or just true to yourself.
Happiness doesn’t mean pain free, which is the promise of pleasure, especially in all the advertising that surrounds us. Happiness is about living a complete and full life, which includes all the feelings and states of consciousness, along with the feeling that you can handle what comes to you in life.
I invite you to take on the task of journaling about the difference between pleasure and happiness and contentment. What would you consider your “guilty pleasures?”
Do you allow yourself to let lose once in awhile. Are you addicted to anything?
What brings you a true feeling of contentment and fulfillment in life? Can you include more of that in your daily routine. What would your life look like if you centered all your actions around finding fulfillment in life? How would you spend your time?