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The Pleasure Principle

Despite having so many pleasure-bestowing products in the market, we are not really happy. Find out how happiness is different from pleasure.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 23, 2010 20:06 IST
Shikha Sharma

I was in a discussion a few days ago, when someone remarked that despite having so many pleasure-bestowing products in the market, we are not really happy. This struck me as a significant statement. Many happiness surveys conducted across the world have come up with results that clearly show that happiness is not linked to the actual condition of anyone in terms of wealth, family, health or any other worldly gift. This got me thinking about happiness – and how different it is from other pleasures.

I realised that we are a pleasure-seeking society. We continuously seek pleasure. Nandan Nilekani, in a recent discussion, mentioned his mantra of delaying gratification (as opposed to instant gratification) when he was asked about his success and philanthropy. Normally we seek things or activities that ‘give’ us pleasure sooner rather than later. That would mean that the outside environment is giving us something that gives us pleasure.

We are connected to the outside environment through our senses. Our senses pick up signals and relay them to the brain, where these signals are decoded. These messages give us a perception of pleasure. Common things that give us pleasure are good food, good music, compliments, pleasant sounds, tactile sensations like a massage, sweet-smelling aromas and fragrances and visual delights. At the other end, harsh sounds, angry words, horrible sights, bad smells and bad food give us discomfort or pain. So our entire life is a rollercoaster of pain and pleasure.

Over time, we learn to seek pleasure and avoid pain, like a well-trained animal. This pleasure-pain cycle is a game the environment plays with the lower or little mind, called the manomaya kosh, which is composed of the triad of the senses, mind and emotions.

Signals from the outside world are picked up by our senses, which are sent to the brain for decoding and analysis. These sets of emotional responses make us the thinking, feeling people we are. Eventually, without realising it, we become puppets in the hands of the outside environment. After playing to the environment for a long time, we get tired and disenchanted with it.

Our nucleus of action and control becomes the outside rather than the inner self, and we try to control the outside environment, and persistently try to fix the people around us.