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Day 19/06/2014

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …*

One aspect of Positive Psychology that I find most exciting, is the way in which it nuances our understanding of happiness. We tend to view happiness as a single, static entity– something to possess or to be. Positive Psychology frames happiness as a multifaceted and dynamic process involving a wide range of emotions and magnitudes. It is not an all or nothing endeavor, happiness is a process–the journey is the destination— and it comes in many shades and intensities. So far, we’ve examined some scientifically vetted ways to increase happiness about the past and enhance positive emotion in the future, today we’ll turn our attention to understanding happiness in the present. Positive emotion in the present is divided into two main categories, what Seligman terms the “pleasures” and the “gratifications:”

The pleasures are delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components, what philosophers call “raw feels:” ecstasy, thrills, orgasm, delight, mirth, exuberance, and comfort. They are evanescent, and they involve little, if any, thinking. (102)

The gratifications are activities we very much like doing, but they are not necessarily accompanied by any raw feelings at all. Rather, the gratifications engage us fully, we become immersed and absorbed in them, and we lose self-consciousness. Enjoying a great conversation, rock climbing, reading a good book, dancing, and making a slam dunk are all examples of activities in which time stops for us, our skills match the challenge, and we are in touch with our strengths. The gratifications last longer than the pleasures, they involve quite a lot of thinking and interpretation, they do not habituate easily, and they are undergirded by our strengths and virtues. (102)

For those of you familiar with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work, you will no doubt have noticed that the gratifications are interchangeable with the concept of flow. Seligman devotes an entire section of Authentic Happiness to the gratifications, which we will look at next Tuesday.

For today let’s focus on the pleasures, what they are and how we can enhance and amplify them in our daily lives. The pleasures can be divided into two categories–the “bodily pleasures” and the “higher pleasures.” The distinction between the two has to do with the degree of concscious thought that they require:

THE BODILY PLEASURES These delights are immediate, come through the senses, and are momentary. They need little or no interpretation. The sense organs, for evolutionary reasons, are hooked quite directly to positive emotion; touching, tasting, smelling, moving the body, seeing and hearing can directly evoke pleasure. (103)

THE HIGHER PLEASURESThe higher pleasures have a lot in common with the bodily pleasures. Like the latter, they have positive “raw feels,” are momentary, melt easily, and habituate readily. But they are considerably more complex in what sets them off externally. They are more cognitive, and they are also vastly more numerous and more varied than the bodily pleasures. (104)

The high-intensity pleasures include rapture, bliss, ecstasy, thrill, hilarity, euphoria, kick, buzz, elation, and excitement. The moderate-intensity pleasures include ebullience, sparkle, vigor, glee, mirth, gladness, good cheer, enthusiasm, attraction and fun. The low-intensity pleasures include comfort, harmony, amusement, satiation, and relaxation. (104)

3 PATHWAYS TO ENHANCING THE PLEASURES

As Seligman notes, no one is more expert on the things that bring you pleasure in your life than you are. What Positive Psychology can offer are tools for enhancing the pleasures that you enjoy.

{ COUNTERING HABITUATION }

When I was seven years-old, my family moved to the Netherlands and I discovered a veritable passion for Gouda cheese. I simply couldn’t get enough of it and decreed, with the characteristic pomp of young children, that it was all I wanted to eat for lunch. My mother complied and everyday, along with fruits and vegetables, I would find a Gouda sandwich in my lunchbox. My love affair with Gouda lasted a full month until one day, I opened up my lunchbox and found I had lost my appetite. My beloved Gouda now looked like plasticky orange slabs and I longed for the Brie and Camembert of my homeland. I went home that evening and proclaimed the Gouda age over. The issue with all external stimuli from which we derive pleasure–whether it be cheese, the smell of lavender, or a Fragonard painting–is that we are neurologically wired to stop responding to it once we are repeatedly exposed to the stimulus.

Rapidly repeated indulgence in the same pleasure does not work. […] this process called habituation or adaptation, is an inviolable neurological fact of life. Neurons are wired to respond to novel events, and not to fire if the events do not provide new information. At the single-cell level, there is a so-called refractory period such that the neuron simply cannot fire again for a time (usually a few seconds). At the level of the whole brain, we notice events that are novel and disregard those that are not. The more redundant the events, the more they merge into the unnoticed background. (105) 

Luckily, Seligman shares two potent antidotes to our innate tendency to habituate to external stimulus: strategic spacing of the pleasures and engineering surprise.

– STRATEGIC SPACING –

One key way to keep habituation at bay is to engage in strategic spacing and diversification of your pleasures:

Inject into your life as many events that produce pleasure as you can, but spread them out, letting more time elapse between them than you normally do. If you find that your desire to engage in a particular pleasure diminishes to zero (or below, to aversion) when you space it far enough apart, you are probably dealing with an addiction and not a pleasure. (106)

Try to find the optimal spacing that keeps habituation of your pleasures at bay. If you love the music of Bruce Springsteen, experiment with listening both more and less frequently. You will discover an interval that keeps his music freshest. (106)

– ENGINEERING SURPRISE – 

The second tool that Seligman proposes to keep yourself from habituating to your pleasures and losing the positive emotions that they create is one that I found particularly interesting, which is to engineer surprise for yourself and others:

Surprise, as well as spacing, keeps pleasures from habituating. Try to take yourself by surprise—or, even better, arrange it so that the people you live with or otherwise see frequently surprise each other with “presents” of the pleasures. It does not need to be on the scale of a dozen roses from the florist. An unexpected cup of coffee will do, but it is worth five minutes each day to create a pleasing little surprise for your spouse, your children, or a coworker: his favorite music on when he arrives home, rubbing her back while she is recording receipts on the computer, a vase full of flowers on your officemate’s desk, a simple note of affection. Such acts are reciprocally contagious. (107)

What an excellent design thinking challenge that is: how might we engineer more surprise into our daily lives and those around us?

{ SAVORING

Savoring, which is divided into four mechanisms: “basking (receiving praise and congratulations), thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for blessings), marveling (losing the self in the wonder of the moment), and luxuriating (indulging the senses)” (109) is about enhancing our experience and awareness of the present moment. There is a nascent field of study focused on better understanding the mechanisms of savoring, pioneered by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff of Loyola University, and their research gives us five tangible techniques to cultivate our capacity for savoring:

5 TECHNIQUES TO PROMOTE SAVORING

  1. Sharing with others – You can seek out others to share the experience and tell others how much you value the moment. This is the single strongest predictor of level of pleasure.
  2. Memory-building –Take mental photographs or even a physical souvenir of the event, and reminisce about it later with others.
  3. Self Congratulation – Don’t be afraid of pride. Tell yourself how impressed others are, and remember how long you’ve waited for this to happen.
  4. Sharpening perceptions- Focusing on certain elements and blocking out others.
  5. Absorption – Let yourself get totally immersed and try not to think, just sense. Do not remind yourself of other things you should be doing, wonder what comes next, or consider the ways in which the events could be improved upon. (108) 

{ MINDFULNESS

Much like savoring, mindfulness enables us to be fully aware and engaged with the present moment and counters our innate tendency to “act and interact automatically, without much thinking.” There are loads of available resources and articles on mindfulness and if you’re interested in learning more about its benefits and tools for enhancing your capacity for it, I highly recommend a visit to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center website. As a preview, Seligman sites the following study from Ellen Langer on the effects of mindfulness:

Ellen Langer, a Harvard Professor and the leading academic in the field of mindlessness, had people try to butt into a line of office workers waiting to copy material. When the would-be-queue-jumpers asked, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you?” they were refused. When they asked, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you, because I have to copy something,” they were allowed to cut in. Langer has developed a set of techniques for making us more mindful, allowing us to see the present moment anew. Underlying these techniques is the principle of shifting perspective to make a stale situation fresh. Tenth graders, for example, are assigned a history chapter about Stephen Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. One group reads the passage from the perspective of Douglas, asking what he would think and feel, and from the perspective of his grandchild as well. This group learns much more than one that is just assigned to learn the material. (110)

Mindful attention to the present occurs much more readily in a slow state of mind than when one is racing future-mindedly through experience. The Eastern practice of meditation comes in many forms, but almost all of them, done regularly, slow down the speeding Western mind. (They almost all are well documented to dampen anxiety as well.) This in turn supports a mindset that is attentive to the present. (110)

HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY – AN INTERVENTION FOR ENHANCING THE PLEASURES

In Authentic Happiness, Seligman proposes the following exercise to practice the various mechanisms that he shares for enhancing your pleasures:

I assign you (as I do my students) to have a beautiful day. Set aside a free day this month to indulge in your favorite pleasures. Pamper yourself. Design, in writing, what you will do from hour to hour. Use as many of the techniques above as you can. Do not let the bustle of life interfere, and carry out the plan. (111)

Why don’t they assign things like that in k-12?!

*

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …* | rethinked.org

My cat, B, a natural expert on enhancing the pleasures …*

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