I wrote a while ago about Hedonism which simplified means the pursuit of pleasure, of sensual self-indulgence. I think about this concept on and off. One part of me agrees that deep happiness does not come from obtaining material things or deriving pleasure through food or similar means. But another part of me thinks that little doses of pleasure can be a nice thing in life, and can actually help us feel happy.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
– Oscar Wilde
Where I think we cross the line is pleasure in excess. Of quantity over quality rather than the opposing.
Of course there are times we may go into excess, and it's not completely wrong or bad. But it's when it happens constantly - this overdoing or overconsumption, that it can possibly become a problem.
Like many things in life when we have excess it can have the opposite effect to feeling happy and satisfied. It can leave us feeling like we are running on The Hedonic Treadmill - a constant chase of pleasure, and winding up back to the level of happiness where we began.
I think the beauty lies in finding a balance.
Of allowing ourselves to enjoy pleasure, with the awareness that what we have is enough. That it is OK to enjoy a little luxury and forego more than is actually needed.
If we look at the happiest and longest living cultures in the world, they appreciate pleasure.
Those in Denmark, always ranked at the top of the list, are known for 'Hygge' as attributing to their happiness. Hygge roughly translates to comfort and coziness. Which often comes from moments of appreciating little pieces of pleasure, like lighting a candle and taking a hot bath. Of gathering with friends around beautiful and delicious food. Of using soft throws and stylish lighting to create a cozy home.
In France they appreciate little luxuries like fine lingerie or perfume, and beautiful cheese, artisan bread and pastries. In Greece they love their coffee, big long lunches and red wine.
If I think back to some of the happiest moments of my life, they involved pleasure.
My wedding was a highlight for me. Our families gathered around a table and enjoyed incredible food. I wore a designer dress, a French braid and felt beautiful. My husband looked handsome in his suit. We focussed on quality in all elements attributing to the occasion. On creating an atmosphere and an experience. I remember feeling so happy to see those around me enjoying the moment and being together.
Another time is when I stepped out of our hired jeep in Alberta onto a blanket of fresh snow with my husband and camera. There was nothing but silence and a black and white landscape. There was nobody else around for miles. It was mesmerising and almost surreal. That trip cost us a lot, but that moment and experience I'll forever look back on with happiness and gratitude. Those photos are framed on our wall.
What I think attributes to finding the right balance, is when these luxuries are part of an experience. When they are valued and appreciated, without going into excess.
Think of those times when we over-consume something. Like chocolate for example. We may mindlessly scoff down a couple rows. And then decide we need more because we weren't paying attention the first time and didn't completely enjoy it. So we consume more until we feel ill and the block is virtually gone. That's when pleasure becomes excess and we don't feel much from the experience other than misery.
So I do in a way think that little pieces of pleasure can help us feel happy. That it's not necessarily bad and we don't need to feel guilty for enjoying them.
It comes down to using our best judgement and common sense as to what we actually need without verging into excess too often. To being mindful of the pleasure we choose and to notice and appreciate it. And to enjoy pleasure as part of an experience, whether alone or with others.
So sip a glass of wine with your loved one over a beautiful dinner and relish it. Save up the money to afford luxurious lingerie or perfume, respect it and feel secretly alluring. Take the holiday you have been dreaming of and open your eyes and mind to the whole experience.
Life is to be enjoyed. And a little luxury and fun from time-to-time is not a bad thing.