“The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
In a love business, the idea of pleasure is a primary theme and as a writer on the topic of enhancing pleasure, I have often freely exchanged the concepts of pleasure and enjoyment, as though they were one in the same. Recently I have learned differently and now stand corrected. Understanding the significant difference between the fleeting experience of pleasure and the focused creation of enjoyment is the difference of being a bystander or an artist in your own life. The confusion comes in part from our culture which is fascinated with immediate gratification and markets the fleeting experience of pleasure as happiness. In fact, our pleasure response is brief because it comes and goes with the rise and fall of the satisfaction of our needs, both physical and perceived. Even the best of meals only satisfies deeply until hunger strikes again and that thing you had to have rarely offers more than temporary happiness.
This is because the deliberate process of tapping into the enjoyment of life far overshadows any immediate experience of pleasure. Even orgasm, the holy grail in the quest for sexual satisfaction is a fleeting pleasure compared to the long term enjoyment of a committed relationship that holds our attention. The essential difference between the two is one of both intention and attention. Whether your enjoyment in life comes through your relationship to someone else, or to a beloved hobby like video games, rock climbing, music, sports activities or some academic pursuit, it is the process of controlling our attention which heals and grows us. Two things have to be true for this growth process to be enjoyable- clarity and balance. You have to know the rules of the game and the challenge must be within your reach
Simply put, when we focus on getting better at something, growing our abilities and interests in whatever makes us curious and feel more alive we are happier. In their most enjoyable moments people report being fully immersed in the things they love to do. These moments of flow as they are sometimes referred to by the social scientists who study them are the gifts we get when our intention to become more of ourselves is matched by the experiences we need to grow. People say “that time stood still… that I was one with the rock I was climbing, or the music I was playing” Or as my son says about his very best games, “the basketball and the hoop was all that existed.” In this magical space and time, we are fully present and the universe enjoys us. When we are not chasing our thousands of thoughts, which plague us with worry or attack us with self deprecating worthlessness, we find deep wholeness.
Thousands of years ago, Seneca, one of Rome’s first philosophers recognized this truth when he declared, “A thing seriously pursued affords true enjoyment.” Committing to enjoying yourself is a life-long process of self development. True enjoyment is goal driven and seeks the complex balance of increasing skill, while facing obtainable challenges. There are many days that even our most enjoyable activities don’t bring pleasure as my son will attest to when he can’t find his shot or the competition was too stiff. Sometimes what we most enjoy about our life is reflecting on our goals met after the bruises have healed. Learning to enjoy life is fundamentally how we show up most meaningfully in the time we are given.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for pleasure and have traced my own hedonism around many a long weekend, but when push comes to shove, I would give up the very best meals I have eaten any day for the truly enjoyable ways I become a better version of myself.