The search for happiness and an enjoyable life is pretty universal, and has spanned centuries. Thanks to the field of Positive Psychology, we now have a much more detailed understanding of what creates an enjoyable life. One way to relieve stress and make life more enjoyable is the pursuit of pleasures, which Positive Psychology researcher Christopher Peterson defines as “subjective positive psychological states that range from “raw feels” of the body produced by perfumes or back rubs to “higher” pleasures of the mind occasioned by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or the denouement of The Usual Suspects to the pleasures of accomplishment produced by the victory of a favorite political candidate or local football team”.
These pleasures, as mentioned, are subjective—one person’s deep tissue massage is another person’s painful manhandling, for example—but when the right pleasures are paired with the right individuals, they can bring a wonderful sense of delight, ranging from relaxation to glee to ecstasy. Their main drawback is that the positive feelings they bring are fleeting, and diminishing, a phenomenon known as ‘habituation’: upon successive experiences of the same pleasures, there is less return: the third bite of a cookie isn’t as delicious as the first, and a daily indulgence of cookies may bring less per-cookie pleasure than cookies eaten once a month, or once a year. (I believe this accounts for the wild success of Girl Scout Cookies in general, and Thin Mints in particular!) Also, greater doses of an originally pleasurable stimulus are often needed for the same thrill experienced initially, also thanks to habituation.
Because of the rapid rate of habituation that comes with pleasures, it’s advisable to vary them often. To achieve a pleasurable life, it’s important to have some physical pleasures, some intellectual pleasures, and some accomplishment-inducing pleasures included in daily life. This might mean having a home that’s beautifully decorated with scented candles and filled with good food, a schedule that contains blocks of time for reading and massages, and a lifestyle containing hobbies and interests freely pursued. Then changes should be made so that new pleasures are constantly added (even if old pleasures are given up—as long as they’re not missed!), so that there’s a constant influx of non-habituated pleasure.
The following are different 'pleasures' that can offer a quick boost in mood. If you develop a lifestyle that includes several of these pleasures, you can create a more enjoyable, less stressful lifestyle for yourself. The trick is to vary the pleasures that you have in your life, and vary them often so that habituation doesn’t set in and rob them of their ‘pleasantness’.
Pleasures for Stress Relief
- Savor a warm bath.
- Enjoy chocolate meditation.
- Take a long, relaxing walk.
- Use aromatherapy.
- Try a walking meditation.
- Don’t forget de-cluttering and Feng Shui.
- Read a good book.
- See a funny movie.
- Cultivate healthy sexuality.
Peterson, C. A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2006.
Seligman, M. E. P. Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002.