Positive Psychology Column
By Tom Muha, Ph.D.
Finding Pleasure in all the Right Places
people think that making yourself happy is simple - just have more pleasure in
your life.† So millions of Americans try
to find happiness by indulging in such bodily pleasures as drugs, alcohol,
tobacco and food.
result, according to government statistics, is that every year 60,000 Americans
die as a result of using illegal drugs, and well more than 100,000 die of
alcohol related causes. But thatís just the tip of the iceberg.
than 250,000 people in the US die of eating too much and exercising too
little.† Before those quarter million
succumb to their sedentary lifestyle they usually suffer terribly.† Diabetes, for example, is just one of the
diseases closely associated with obesity and necessitates 80,000 amputations
most common pleasure trap is tobacco, which causes 440,000 Americans to lose
their lives every year, usually after long battles with cancer and other
whose primary method of achieving happiness is through bodily pleasure quickly
find themselves trudging up what scientistís call the ďhedonic treadmill.Ē The
problem is that the pleasures derived from the delights of physical sensationís
fade almost immediately after the substance being consumed disappears.†
a short time the individual is once again craving the substance in order to get
a good feeling again.† Making the problem
worse is the fact that people become accustomed to a certain level of
consumption and require increasingly larger doses to deliver the same amount of
occurs as the brainís pleasure center comes to depend on the external
substances and stops producing its own natural feel-good
neurotransmitters.† Thatís when the
rebound effect comes into full force causing a person to suddenly slip into
sadness soon after they stop indulging in their particular pleasure.
people, however, have learned to use the character strength of self-control to
regulate their involvement in using bodily pleasures to create good
feelings.† Just like your muscles,
character strengths are built by regular exercise, and the more you use them
the more powerful you become.
happy people make the choice to prohibit a pleasure completely by consciously
redirecting their thoughts.† First they
think of the long term consequences of their choices.† For example, they focus on the negative
properties of tobacco, which they tell themselves will eventually bring them
second step is to think of other sources of pleasure, and to choose a healthy
alternative. Having a picture of a healthy future brings them pleasure, and
making good choices builds their self-image.†
people, in contrast, deny the agony of the ultimate outcome as a means of
making poor choices in the present.†
Their self-esteem sinks in the wake of the problems they create for
themselves.† This often happens when
people put on weight, for instance.
new science of happiness has found that there are four strategies that are
effective for enhancing pleasures in a healthy way: spacing, surprise, savoring
and mindfulness.† Understanding these
psychological principles can provide powerful lessons for increasing your
out the events that bring you pleasure keeps the experience fresh. Once a
pleasure becomes a habit, it loses its ability to bring enjoyment. Having a
large variety of pleasures from which you can choose makes it easier for† you to space them out, and makes it less
likely youíll become dependent on just one pleasure.
is another element that greatly enhances pleasure.† You may come home to a spouse every night and
fall into much the same routine.†
Everybody knows that if you bring fresh flowers home occasionally it
will produce a very positive change in the interaction.† Go to your schedule and make a note reminding
yourself to do that.
helps to overcome the tendency to be future-minded.† Thinking ahead, for instance, limits your
ability to listen and empathize with what someone is saying now, depriving you
of having a good connection to that person.†
counters our mindless involvement in many of the activities in our lives
by slowing down our thought process.† A
racing mind is commonly associated with anxiety, a constant worry about what
may go wrong.† A calm mind is better able
to appreciate the positive aspects of the present moment.
down a bowl of ice cream is far less pleasurable than forcing yourself to wait
30 seconds between mouthfuls so you can savor the flavors.† Youíll also eat a lot less.
go have a positively pleasurable day!
Tom Muha is a psychologist in
Annapolis. He welcomes your comments and questions. To contact him call (443)
454-7274 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.