Elusive Pleasures and Contentment

We spend a lifetime pursuing things that we think will give us pleasure and contentment. Great minds like Aristotle and many others have devoted time thinking about pleasures that would bring happiness and contentment. The puritans were fearful of pursuing such feel good pleasures in case they led them into temptation. Some claim that Buddha was also not too keen on feel good pleasures; he taught real happiness comes from completely eliminating these desires.

We have come a long way to understanding what these pleasures are. Let us take a step back and try to understand what’s going on when we find pleasure in something. When we seek out certain types of food or sexual experiences, new job, new car etc; and when we actually acquire it, our brain then gives us a boost of certain chemicals such as dopamine, which gives us a feeling of good ripples through our consciousness, making us feel happy. This acts as an incentive or the reward for pursuing our object of desire. The more we acquire, more rewarded we feel and more we want. This is the force or the urges and feelings of the incentive / resource seeking system.

Think about the last time you did something that you really enjoyed, perhaps enjoying an evening with friends, having a good holiday or sexual experience. It may have felt good, but it probably didn’t last that long because those kinds of pleasures usually don’t. Pleasure ALWAYS come to an end. Sometimes the feeling of the fulfilled desire is so fleeting that we are on the lookout for the next one in no time at all.

All this does not mean that we renounce our pleasures, but we can engage in seeking pleasure in more skillful way. If we base our happiness only on operating from our incentive system and fulfilling our desires, life will be a roller coaster ride of short-lasting pleasures, striving, seeking, frustration, wanting more and better, with increasing effort s to control our lives and those of others to give us the next fix of pleasure.  These kinds of pleasures are dependent on the world and other people giving us something in some way. In this way we are always distracted or running away from the unpleasant thoughts or experiences of life; we try to lose ourselves and forget the unpleasantness of life by indulging in pleasure. These short-lived pleasures leave us wanting more and we live in constant pursuit of them, hoping we will be content one day but we never seem to reach that state. Moreover, the pleasure prevents us from reflection, exploration, gaining insight into and experiences of the very nature of our mind.

Insight into our mind will allow us to experience other positive feelings that are based on contentment, non striving, being mindful and living –in – the moment.

We will explore these in more detail in the next article.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert


Happiness – part 3

In the last post we looked at  Aristotle’s concept of happiness. In this post, let us consider some questions about happiness that you may have already wondered about.

Plato on the right and Aristotle on the right.

1. One may for example ask ; which goods are more important to acquire out of the real unlimited goods if we want to cultivate happiness, but can’t devote equal time cultivating them ; Aristotle would say it is better to have strength of character than to have a richly cultivated mind. It is impossible to have a flourishing life and be happy without good habits (moral virtue). One can have highly cultivated intellectual virtue ( a brilliant mind ) but without moral virtue still fail to lead a happy , flourishing , good life. Of course one need some knowledge to live.

2. Can moral virtue be taught ? Socrates didn’t think so; he thought because of our choice of free will no one can succeed in making anyone morally virtuous , they have to be voluntarily disposed to learn and profit from being taught.; and thus cultivate good habits and strength of character. Ones moral character gets formed in youth; it can be changed later but it takes a huge effort. Unfortunately the youth often do not have the maturity to think about the whole life and think about what would be best in the long run. Youth is more likely to be dictated by their immediate likes and dislikes. They don’t have the benefit of prudence,which involves  taking counsel, deliberating about the options,weighing pros and cons, and being neither rash or indecisive.Why some end up with good moral virtues and other don’t, even if they grow up in the same household, no one knows.

3. Can one be perfectly virtuous or completely happy ? Although one should aim at the ideal but it is seldom attained because from time to time we don’t act in accordance with moral virtues;because the appetites over rule us.  This would lead to incomplete happiness; of course more virtuous the person is, the more power one has to make a good like for themselves. Other reasons for incomplete happiness is from misfortunes. We may have to make a tragic choice due to circumstances beyond our control; for example having to choose between two bad or even evil choices; like choosing between one love  and another, between love and duty, between conflicting loyalty etc.

The quest for happiness is ongoing process, good luck on your journey. May you be happy and have good fortune.


1. A Vision of the Future

By Mortimer J. Adler

2. Six Great Ideas

By Mortimer J. Adler

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