The Pleasure Principle
Freud said we live on something he called the pleasure principle. That is, we naturally gravitate toward what pleases or satisfies us. (Freud defined pleasure as anything that relieves biological “tension.”) Similarly, we tend to avoid what we find painful or aversive. Now, this is not inherently problematic. In fact, it’s generally quite adaptive. But we can become slaves to our appetites and aversions. This dynamic lies at the very heart of all addiction. And to avoid such enslavement we must learn how to be master over our appetites and aversions.
I’ve counseled many folks who came to me in chains. As hedonistic thinkers, they’d spent a lifetime “chasing highs,” pursuing one excitement after the other. (See, also: Hedonistic Thinking.) True, they felt great for a time. In fact, they felt pretty good every time they indulged themselves. But it always took more and more for them to feel satisfied. And inwardly, they felt increasingly empty. By the time they came to me, they were depressed to the point of near despair. That’s what living purely on the pleasure principle will do to you. The pleasure principle was designed to serve us – to serve life itself. When we allow our lives to serve it instead, we invite spiritual death. (Read more about this in The Judas Syndrome.)
There is a way of living that supersedes the pleasure principle. But it’s not a way of living that comes naturally. Living life on a higher principle requires much mindfulness. Still, the benefits of living beyond the pleasure principle are countless.
So how do we move beyond ruthlessly governed by the pleasure principle? As I mentioned before, it takes mindfulness. And that’s the topic of the next “commandment” we’ll be discussing. But it also takes discipline. And that involves properly shaping and exercising our will. That will be the topic of the subsequent discussion.
As you can see, the current and following two commandments go very much together. They are not only interdependent but also build on one another. And along with all the other commandments, they grow a person in character. That means growing emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
I’ve been helping people grow and change for many years now. And I can unequivocally assert that spiritual and psychological health go hand-in-hand. That’s why I’ve been spending so much time modifying my upcoming book on character development. Moving beyond the pleasure principle (i.e. living life on a much higher plane) is an inherently spiritual task. But it’s also the ticket to psychological health.
The ultimate challenge for human beings is to put the pleasure principle in its place. It’s in its proper place when it advances the cause of life. When we’re growing, prospering, and facilitating the growth of others we know we have it right. But when we’re living for our next “high,” or too intensely avoiding the uncomfortable we breed only stagnation.
I’ll have more to say about living on a higher plane in next week’s concluding article.