“No, I’m not going to homecoming.” Despite the petitioning of several close friends, my response remained unchanged: “No, I’m not going to homecoming this year.” “Why not?” they’d ask. At the time, I couldn’t adequately label the root of my apprehension. I just knew I didn’t want to engage in self-indulgence. I knew I’d have fun but I couldn’t guarantee that attending would add true value to my life. I’ve always been weary of hedonism because it can be so mindless—it doesn’t lead to a meaningful destination. Nevertheless, I also understood that all pleasure isn’t inherently bad. But too many people (most people) associate the self-indulgence with happiness. They confuse pleasure for fulfilment. So where’s the balance? When is it “okay” to have fun?
This conundrum conflicted with my spirit. Fortunately, while reading The Guide to Happiness by Mark Manson, I discovered concepts that eased my bewilderment. Manson cautioned against continued self-indulgence. He stated: “Pleasure is a false God.” He warns the reader that prolonged pleasure is harmful because it provides a deceptive sense of happiness. The feeling is ephemeral and unfulfilling.
Everyone is heartbroken. And everyone wants to be happy. To achieve genuine fulfilment requires that we address our heartbreak. Unfortunately, most people turn to whatfeels good in the moment instead of what produces the most good over time.
In reality, pleasure is only as good as our baseline happiness. Psychological studies have demonstrated that happiness has a “baseline” and that all events—good or bad--cause fluctuations in happiness, but over time, happiness always reverts back to the baseline. Our baseline is like our foundation. It’s a reflection of our overall psychological disposition. Its magnitude is proportional to the amount of healing we’ve undergone. It represents our truest identity. It’s akin to the state of our internal environment. The fluctuations, however, rely on external stimuli.
Since Everyone is heartbroken, the degree of pain establishes the initial baseline. Additional heartbreak, of course, can lower our self-esteem and diminish hope thereby lowering our baseline. Pleasure may improve our mood temporarily, but it doesn’t affect your foundational happiness. Additionally, the law of diminishing returns demonstrates that the euphoria of the highalways fades. Therefore, it requires additional stimuli to achieve the same high. Naturally then, we consume more—more alcohol, more drugs, more parties, more sex, more money, more clothes, more cars, more status, etc. This is the rat race—I call it the search.
Strengthening our foundation begins with a dedication to healing. Healing can be difficult because you have to face negative experiences from which you’ve likely been hiding—it’s frightening. Furthermore, you’re conditioned to operate from a place of pain; re-conditioning yourself is arduous. It’s the toughest thing you’ll ever do. It’s the fight of your life; however, this meaningful suffering is the one way to happiness.
Our baseline is elevated by meaningful suffering. Healing is only the beginning. When we’ve discarded our baggage, we can pursue meaningful aspirations that reflect our values and excite our souls. We can let go of being who we’re supposed to beand be our best selves. Suffering is a fact of life. But freedom allows us to choose who we will be within the construct of a chaotic world. We can personify peace in life’s storms.
While the minority comprehends the importance of healing and meaningful suffering, the majority resolves to search. In this instance, happiness relies on external stimuli which are volatile. The end result is slavery--to our impulses.
Conversely, happiness is freedom. It’s the freedom to live life uninhibited by our pain. It is enjoying pleasures without needing them. It’s operating from a place a wholeness. It’s living unconditionally. We won’t need anything because we know how to maintain a high baseline free of external influence. Pleasure, then, becomes a plus. It’s acknowledging our baseline and relying on activities that promote permanent growth, not temporary satisfaction.Be in tune with your motives and ask yourself: Is this something I truly want or do or is my pain compelling me? Am I operating in wholeness or do I need/want something? If the outcome of said activity wasn’t publicized, would I still want it?
Achieving that level of contentment takes time. So how do we navigate pleasure in the meantime? Is it okay to have fun while healing? Awareness is key—we must acknowledge where we are on our journey and recognize our patterns. While all activities provide potential diversions, some endeavors are misleading and valueless while others can enhance your mood, producing a more suitable headspace for conducting meaningful work (i.e. working out).
As a general rule of thumb: We must prioritize activities that improve our baseline. We must minimize activities that don’t. And eliminate all activities that diminish our baseline happiness.
Work to improve your baseline. It makes everything else better. Pleasure reaches a new height when it isn’t overshadowed by heartbreak. We can be truly present. We can engage without any reservations. However, we can only achieve this by doing the necessary work to re-establish our foundation.