Routines of Pleasure
Consider one way you could bring a little bit more pleasure into your day.
Human beings are hardwired to focus on the negative. It’s smart, from a survival perspective, to remember when the tiger popped out of the woods; not so much to daydream about a safe, nutritious meal with friends. It’s easy to lose the good times in the shuffle of everyday stress.
Good times, though, are not only fun for their own sake: they can also reduce our stress, help us clarify what we want, and give us energy to get through tough times. There is some evidence that regular boosts of dopamine, especially through the intimate pleasures of sex, might make us more creative, more focused, and more likely to fight back when someone tries to take advantage of us. In her fascinating book Vagina: A New Biography, Naomi Wolf writes:
This is why I call dopamine the ultimate feminist chemical. If a woman has optimal levels of dopamine, she is difficult to direct against herself. She is hard to drive to self-destruction, to manipulate and control.
Wolf’s focus is specifically on women’s sexual experience, but pleasure has always been policed in our society. Regardless of our gender, when we’re out of pleasure, we’re out of spoons: there’s no point caring about anything. A population without pleasure is easy to control. We’ve been taught to associate shame or fear with pleasure, to take our joys furtively before the other shoe starts to drop. We don’t feel we deserve pleasure. We think we have to earn it. And when we finally have something we want, we are terrified to lose it. Sometimes we get so used to being stressed and unhappy it’s almost like we’re addicted, and we push away any sweetness that knocks at our door. We humans are pretty weird about pleasure.
Bringing more pleasure in our lives doesn’t have to be a big deal. We can create more sweetness in our lives in all kinds of small ways. You probably already do this: little routines like drinking your coffee in the morning or taking an afternoon break to play Candy Crush might already be important routines of pleasure for you. Entering into these routines with mindfulness and presence help us get more out of the experience. It’s important to protect these little routines from the crush of everyday busyness.
A key about pleasure is that it requires presence—and that’s the reason it can be so hard to focus on. Feeling pleasure requires that we feel anything else that might come up alongside the pleasure. Going for a walk on a beautiful fall day and feeling the warm sun on our skin brings us directly into our bodies—and suddenly we remember that we are also nursing a broken heart. Letting in pleasure means letting in everything else. But pleasure isn’t mutually exclusive with anything else. Enjoying a beautiful fall day is not a betrayal to grief.
Cooking and eating delicious food can be a daily experience of pleasure, if we’re paying attention. Listening to a funny podcast on a walk to work can be a joy no matter what the weather. If you have a partner, prioritizing time to have fun together is hugely strengthening for the relationship. Whether you’re partnered or not, finding ways to enjoy the nectar of alone time is so important for loving your life as it is—one of my secrets is young adult sci-fi novels!
Consider one way you could bring a little bit more pleasure into your day. Do it again the next day, and the next, and then add one more little thing to the day after that. Before you know it, your life will be full of tiny happy moments that might just make you calmer, more joyful, and more resilient, whatever comes your way.
Join Julie in her latest course Stress Management Skills for Real Life: Practices for a Calmer, Happier Life. Get the first lesson free here.