What is your relationship with pleasure like?
Do you experience and enjoy pleasure when you’re in the mood for it?
Do you have an addictive relationship with it?
Do you have an on-again, off-again relationship with it?
Does your relationship with pleasure feel healthy, supportive, and fun?
Is your relationship with pleasure simple or complex?
Here’s one of more interesting questions to ask yourself:
Do you trust pleasure?
And here’s another meaningful question:
What kind of relationship would you like to have with pleasure?
Pleasure is just pleasure. In its simplest form, it is pure enjoyment. There is nothing else wrapped into it – no distraction, no addiction, no escapism, no guilt, no shame, no fear, no negative consequences.
This past summer I loved eating delicious peaches – so sweet, juicy, and flavorful. I’d often buy 2-3 boxes at a time because I would eat so many of them. Even when I ate five of them in a day, there were no negative consequences that I could discern. They were simply delicious, and I enjoyed the energy they gave me too. This is a a very uncomplicated form of pleasure, and it’s easy to have a healthy relationship with it.
Last month my wife and I did a 30-day challenge of kissing each other for at least one minute each day. It hardly took any time, it was among the easiest “challenges” ever, and it was pure pleasure for us both. It was a nice daily reminder to kiss just because we enjoy it. It feels good to share tender kisses, playful kisses, and passionate kisses alike. Just one minute of kissing is very emotionally satisfying.
But of course there are other forms of pleasure that can become problematic because they’re wrapped up with some negative qualities like addiction or abuse. Choosing a healthy and pleasurable experience isn’t the same as choosing an unhealthy one.
We can project a lot of neediness onto pleasure. We can want it to play a bigger role for us, such as saving us from our problems or providing a substitute for real human relationships. But projecting such neediness onto pleasure isn’t likely to lead to a healthy relationship with pleasure.
Some people wrap so much angst into various forms of pleasure that they try to fix this by swearing off pleasure altogether. They try to get control over it through abstinence. It isn’t necessary to go this far though, just as it isn’t necessary to swear off all human relationships just because you’ve endured some rough ones. It’s not the pleasure that’s the problem. It’s the neediness and projection you bring to it. Pleasure is fine. It’s your relationship with pleasure that needs some improvement.
Consider instead that you can change your relationship with pleasure by relating to it in a much purer and simpler way. Pleasure isn’t an escape. It isn’t a solution. It isn’t an achievement. It isn’t a source of fear, shame, or guilt.
Pleasure is simply a gift. You open it. You receive it. You enjoy it. You appreciate it. And that’s it.
Don’t make it complicated.
Pleasure is fearless, guiltless, and shameless. If you feel fear, shame, or guilt, it isn’t the pleasure itself that made you feel that way. Enjoyment is just enjoyment.
In 2016 when Rachelle and I spent 30 days in a row going to Disneyland, it was a monthlong deep dive into fun. I found the experience transformational in ways I didn’t expect. I like that Disneyland’s ethos gave us permission to engage with fun in such an immersive way for 10-16 hours per day. That experience was beneficial on multiple levels – good for our relationship, nice to spend so much time outdoors, great for incubating business ideas, 10-12 miles of daily walking, and it led to the launch of Conscious Growth Club about six months later. I was hesitant to do it, but it was one of the best deep dives ever.
You can healthfully engage with many simple forms of pleasure, such as by enjoying a juicy peach or a delightful kiss with a willing (and uninfected!) partner. You don’t have to descend into a complex and perilous relationship with pleasure.
When you engage with different forms of pleasure, pay attention to the relationship. Is it still clean, pure, and simple? Are you still engaging to experience pleasure? Or have made the relationship complicated? Do you feel addicted or compelled to engage? Are some negative consequences occurring such as guilt about wasting time, damage to your health, or feeling ashamed that you violated your values?
If you notice that your relationship with some form of pleasure has grown complicated in undesirable ways, you can transition out of that relationship and reinvest in other forms of pleasure that are simpler and purer.
If you clean up this relationship with pleasure, you can sustainably experience a wide variety of healthy forms of pleasure, which can enrich your life tremendously without dragging you down.
Here’s a good way to frame this from a spiritual perspective:
I invite and intend a lifelong relationship with pleasure that is pure, clean, and healthy – and free of any fear, shame, or guilt.
When you do feel fear, shame, or guilt, trace it back to its source. Figure out where those feelings are coming from. Notice that they aren’t coming from the pleasure itself. They’re coming from somewhere else, like the meaning you’re attaching to the experience or the negative side effects of the particular form of pleasure that you’ve chosen. So then you have an invitation to clean up this relationship. Cleanse it. Elevate it. Purify it.
Let your relationship with pleasure be a clean, pure, and healthy gift.