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A Case for Pleasure

Pleasure... What comes to mind? Sex, food, laughter, massage, nature, baths, books? Pleasure is highly individual and we all have our own ideas and definitions of pleasure. We experience pleasure sensually, whether that be visual, tactile, audible, olfactory or our sense of taste. But what makes pleasure so good for our health?

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which pleasure is often misinterpreted for habits that are in fact not good for us, for example, smoking, excessive drinking, over eating rather than the true pleasures of intimacy, love, creativity, movement, sharing, learning and laughing.

Most people walk around with a scarcity mindset regarding pleasure. Honestly, how many of you woke up today and said to yourselves how much pleasure can I bring to myself and/or the people I am around today? Probably not many. In fact our default is to think and worry about everything we have to get done. You're probably thinking: "What is she talking about? Who has time for pleasure when I have to work full time, take care of my family, study for another degree and keep up with the news and issues of today". Now to be very clear, when I say pleasure, I am not suggesting that you skip out on work or ditch responsibilities. The key is, you do your work, errands, responsibilities, studying and exercise in pleasurable ways. Of course I am a huge advocate of taking breaks, days off, vacations etc. but at the moment I am referring to your daily life. Rather than thinking you have to put pleasure off until you've finished all your adult duties, why not find small ways to weave pleasure into your daily tasks? A far too common belief is that pleasure is a luxury or something that must be earned or perhaps something that we only get after working really hard. It's an afterthought not a priority for most people. I, myself, once held this notion that I needed to earn my pleasure, as though it were an award or a treat for working hard or pushing myself. But what if that's all wrong and we have it backwards? What if pleasure is just as important to our health as a good night's sleep and a balanced diet? What if through pleasure we could create more abundance and achieve better health and productivity? I invite you to indulge me while I offer up an argument for pleasure. Pleasure simply for the sake of it.

We all have a pleasure tank. Think of it like the gas tank of a car. The car runs best on a full tank of gas and the lower it gets the less efficiently it will work. Our bodies and minds are the same. We must continuously fill up our pleasure tank to really thrive. Let's talk about some of the various ways in which pleasure plays a role in our everyday life. And let me say, pleasure does not have to necessarily take a lot of effort or planning. It can, of course, but the concept here in this blog is to examine how we can live a pleasure-based life and accept pleasure as a birthright rather than a prize we must earn.

Let's first talk about movement, and notice I said movement not exercise. Exercise can have a rather mechanical and disciplined notion attached to it. Activities like running, walking, swimming, cycling produce even greater benefits when done out of pleasure rather than a sense of duty. For example, hiking to the top of a hill to watch the sunset is probably more pleasurable than walking for an hour on a treadmill at the gym out of a sense of obligation. Of course, if going to the gym and using the treadmill is pleasurable then bravo! keep doing that. I know there are social aspects of going to the gym and some gyms have such great amenities that it feels like going to the spa! However, for you other folks that are going out of a sense of obligation I invite you to explore other ways to exercise. In the example of hiking to watch the sunset, you're getting your exercise while also having the pleasure of enjoying a glorious sunset perhaps with a loved one. Getting your heart rate up and sweating will produce great benefits no matter what . It improves mood, can fight against anxiety and depression, controls blood sugar, boosts the immune system among many other benefits. However, next time you find that you're pushing yourself to go to the gym out of guilt or a sense of obligation, I invite you to consider a pleasurable alternative activity that might serve in its place.

Touch is something that most humans crave and ultimately need to thrive. It has been shown that newborn infants are healthier and grow faster when held regularly even if it's by a neutral party. Touch has the ability to heal by relieving physical pain, emotional stress and sooth our nervous system. Think about how you feel after a massage or after a loved one rubs your head or plays with your hair. We feel relaxed as though our whole body is exhaling. I realize now with Covid-19 that touch is what we are supposed to avoid but perhaps within your Covid "bubble", family and friends you are seeing during this period, you can find small ways to add pleasurable touch to your day. Hugs, shoulder rubs, foot massages, hand holding, are just a few examples.

Let's talk about food. Generally speaking, the pleasures of food and taste are indisputable. Although sadly, even with food a more common and accepted concept is deprivation not abundance. This is why most diets do not work long term, because they focus on depriving the body of certain foods rather than balance and pleasure. Taking pleasure in one's food is one of life's greatest gifts. Most of the time people are "too busy" to sit down and eat, let alone actually prepare and enjoy a homemade meal. We eat distracted by our TV, phone, computer, newspaper, whatever it may be. Rarely do we sit and solely focus on and be present with our food. Enjoying the smell, the colors, the textures and of course the flavors all play a role in receiving the full nutritional benefits and pleasures of food. The body actually absorbs more nutrients when consumed under pleasant circumstances. When we are under stress our bodies become depleted of vital nutrients such as vitamins C, B and magnesium, which results in fatigue and irritability.

Ambiance can be an extremely important element when we eat and can boost the level of pleasure significantly. Create an ambiance to your liking. It can be as simple as turning off the TV, lighting some candles or putting on a relaxing playlist.

Taking small breaks throughout your day is another way to add some pleasure to your day and to refill your pleasure tank. Even on your busiest days , carving out a few minutes between meetings or errands could make a difference. I recommend adding it you your schedule so it is prioritized and you have allotted time for it just like all your other important tasks of the day. It could be 15 minutes of stretching, calling a friend to say hi, going for a quick walk and getting some sunshine or meditating. Basically giving yourself some self love, whatever that looks like for you.

I could go on and on about the various ways in which we can invite more pleasure into our lives. Although, I believe the simplest way in which we can apply this concept is as follows: while doing any task, regardless of whether you find it daunting or pleasant , ask yourself, How can this moment be more pleasurable? It could be grabbing a cup of your favorite tea while writing those emails, putting a pillow behind your back, playing some music, changing into clothing that makes you feel powerful, sexy or simply more comfortable. Whatever small pleasurable detail you can add to the moment is how you create an abundance of pleasure throughout your day.

The truth is we are built for pleasure. With that in mind, I encourage you to fill your days with as much pleasure as possible. You will be happier and healthier for it, even if it is in small ways. Because the reality is, why wouldn't we want that for ourselves?

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