Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
Pleasure is associated with many different things. It can occur beneath the sheets, at the finish of a difficult project or with devotional work. Occasionally, pleasure is associated with hedonism, the unrelenting pursuit of self-indulgence.
More often, pleasure is associated with instant gratification, but it’s important to differentiate between the two. The body and mind don’t have to exert much effort to achieve instant gratification; the reward is small, and the chemicals that signal pleasure are fleeting. Pleasure itself, however, is simpler: it’s a mental or physical sensation of joy and has longer-lasting effects in the body. The sensation of pleasure is the result of a well-deserved “win” in the context of feeling safe and calm. For example, finishing a race at your fastest pace can feel well-deserved and safe – if you’ve trained regularly and the race course was filled with people who support you.
Human beings are continually searching for pleasurable experiences, yet it is a state that can only exist under two circumstances that may not be easy to achieve: reward and safety.
Reward is a journey of effort and achievement. Safety is both a physical and emotional necessity. While physical safety is occasionally out of our control, we can speak about ourselves more positively, which can help develop a safe, emotional environment where pleasure can exist.
Mindful awareness of our habits in daily life can allow us to open up to pleasure when we want to. While reward and safety may be complex concepts to understand, I offer you some ideas for exploring these concepts to help you increase your capacity for pleasure.
Create a challenge deadline and give yourself meaningful challenges. For example, if you’ve always wanted to publish a book, set up a schedule to write each morning. Challenge yourself to read aloud from your book draft by the end of a season and invite anyone you feel supported by.
The “effortful” work of creating a reward challenge means that:
- it is important enough for you to stay committed even when someone else’s needs filter in.
- it exists in a timeline you set solely for yourself.
- the timeline realistically recognizes all your other responsibilities.
- the challenge requires effort, whether physical or mental.
- the desired result requires you to work just beyond your current skill level.
It is not easy to tick all these boxes quickly and you may notice you can realistically only do one to three genuine challenges a year. Creating effortful challenges allows for reward to contribute to a lasting sensation of pleasure.
Notice the language you use to speak about yourself. Do you undermine your efforts or minimize your achievements? Do you defer compliments or gratitude? Do you blame yourself when things don’t work as planned? Learning to speak positively to yourself takes time, but by becoming aware of your own language, you can begin to create a safe mental space for yourself.
With daily practice, you can increase your capacity for pleasure.
Dr. Thara Vayali is a Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher, UBC alum and popular guest contributor to our Healthy UBC newsletter who specializes in intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. For more information about Thara, visit www.tharavayali.ca.
Photo: Sean McGrath (Flickr)