Somewhere along the way, pleasure 1 has developed a bad reputation. I don’t know whether it’s our puritanical Christian heritage or some deep political conspiracy to strip us of our urge to rebel (I read that all authority figures rely on their followers having low self-esteem) but from the moment Eve chose to eat a beautiful, enticing, red juicy apple, we’ve been told that pleasure-seeking behaviour is bad for us.
Everyday I see stories in my news feed admonishing me to quit sugar, or eat clean, or work out until it hurts. I am told that love is only worthwhile if it lasts a lifetime, that a real woman takes care of her skin/body hair/body fat percentage, and that hard work is the only measure of success. According to the experts, only weak, lazy and selfish people give in to their desires. I don’t agree.
Yesterday, I was contemplating the approach of summer and how I would look in a bikini. Such thoughts always lead to examining how I eat. ‘I could clean up my diet,’ I said to myself. So yesterday morning, instead of skipping breakfast, I pulled out a tub of protein powder from the back of the cupboard and made protein pancakes with sugar-free maple syrup. They tasted like shit. I threw them in the bin.
When the quest for a slim, toned body bubbles up to the front of my mind, I dig under the surface. The urge to be thin comes from the desire to be beautiful, and the desire to be beautiful is a desire to be loved. I’m already loved, probably more than I deserve. The shape of my body makes no difference. And to be honest, the picture I have in my head is of a 25-year-old air-brushed model which no diet or exercise program will ever achieve.
Dieting doesn’t bring me pleasure (nor do the results I have been programmed to aspire to) so I choose (again) not to go there. I can be healthy, active and sexy at any shape. If I follow the pleasure principle, I remain true to myself and at peace with who I am. And without the deprivation of food restriction, I am also free from bingeing. There is no pleasure in stuffing myself until I feel sick — a whole block of chocolate is never as good as a single mouthful.
After five years of going to the gym, I no longer enjoy working out. Even if I was inclined to lift weights again, the pain in my shoulder stops me. But when I apply the pleasure principle, moving my body is no longer a chore. I love to walk, to swim in the ocean, to kayak, to cycle, to dance around the bedroom naked. These are the things I do without having to force myself. The pleasure they bring keeps me coming back for more.
I can wear makeup if I like, or not wear it if that makes me happy. I can shave or not shave my legs. I can dye my hair or go grey. I only have to please myself, not anyone else.
And it’s not just all about me. Being kind, loving someone, offering to help, being generous are all pleasurable. I don’t think anyone feels good when they hurt someone else. The pursuit of pleasure is the path to better relationships and an open heart. When I stand in judgment of someone else, all I need to ask is ‘Does what she’s doing bring her genuine pleasure?’ and if the answer is yes then that’s good enough for me.
So today, do something for yourself or for someone else that gives you pleasure. Watch that crappy TV show, eat that chocolate eclair, take a hot bath, iron your boyfriend’s shirt, kiss your puppy, send your mother a card, or write an email saying thanks.
Moments of bliss in life are rare and precious. Go now and create some for yourself. Do it today and every day that follows, and watch your life transform.
Remember the pleasure principle and follow your bliss.
Tell me what is your favourite guilty pleasure?
Is it possible to indulge without feeling the guilt?
- I use the term pleasure to mean any behaviour that brings genuine joy. This excludes such things as addictions or self-harming behaviours used to mask or avoid pain. But if we are to have any hope of facing the real and ever-present pain in our lives, we need to allow ourselves some lighthearted authentic pleasure. ↩