Getting More Serious About Pleasure

Getting More Serious About Pleasure

How about these for provocative questions?

  • What do you like to eat? In what order and how and at what time?
  • What do you like to talk about? And what bores you deeply?
  • Where do you like to travel to? And what do you keep doing only out of guilt?
  • What do you like to read?
  • What do you, who will be dead soon, enjoy in bed?
  • Who would you like never to see again?
  • What would you do if you only had five weekends left?

This article from *The Book of Life poses these questions around developing an independent pleasurable self, and examines our attitudes towards taking our own fun more seriously.

When it comes to work, most of us tend to dwell on where our talents and opportunities may lie. We spend years and dollars on training. We devote enormous effort to progressing up the ladder and keeping a vigilant eye on our rivals.

By contrast, we don’t think so much about our leisure hours. We want our time off to come easily, to relax and have fun, the only obstacles supposedly being time and money. In reality, though, most of us are modest about what we enjoy. We’re haphazard in our approach to leisure, guided by doing the mundane things for “fun” that other people do. It doesn’t occur to us to think about what our own individual ideas of fun might be.

Look, for example, at the career of Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, born in 1901. He studied fine art and his early minor work reflects the dominant influences of the times. His beautiful portraits and landscapes certainly show pleasure but not his own personality. Then Giacometti left for Paris, broke with his family and worked out who he really was and how he wanted to express himself. He eventually re-emerged as the great artist we know today, with his unique haunting elongated figures that suggest a longing and loneliness we may never before have been able to so clearly sense in ourselves.

It’s about the strength to stay faithful to one’s self. For too much of life, we assume we may be like everyone else. Only gradually, if we are lucky, do we come to see that our characteristic way of drawing pleasure – from nature, hobbies, books, films, dinner parties, clothes, travels, gardening etc – reflects our own particular individuality.

To save ourselves, we need the equivalent of an artistic breakthrough – find what makes us happy and dare to be different.

Using only ourselves as a point of reference, what would a dinner party look like? What would we eat? What would we talk about? Where would we sit? What have we enjoyed in the past and might we recreate going forward? What might a holiday specifically geared to our tastes be like? What bit of the standard tourist itinerary might we ditch? Which of our stray or guilty pleasures might we dare to bring into focus and anchor our days around? What might we learn to say no to and, even better, accept and delve into further?

It’s so often drummed into us that we may be selfish and should learn to give up our interests for the sake of the community that we fail to notice an even more horrific possibility: that in many areas, we’re not selfish enough.

We don’t pay enough, or any, attention to our fragile and extraordinary nature. We don’t express ourselves truly. We don’t individualise our spare time. We don’t ask our lovers to turn us on as we should. We’re to afraid of being impolite or “odd”. We spend far too much time defending an impossible idea: that we are pretty much like anyone else.

So, back to those questions at the beginning of this article – it’s time to develop an independent pleasurable self.

*The Book of Life is sponsored by The School of Life, a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence.