Pursuit of pleasure brings pain

Published in the Courier Mail 6 October 2010

All kudos to Gene Simmons for campaigning for women’s health – sincerely. When celebrities use their prominence to create awareness about public health issues, such as cancer, it can be very effective. However, the philosophy of life that he espouses leaves something to be desired.

In a recent article about his partner’s cancer scare, Gene said, “Life should be the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain…” On the face of it, we might agree, but scrape below the surface of that idea, and we reveal an approach to life that is ultimately hollow and destructive.

The idea of life being about the pursuit of pleasure is pervasive within our modern western society. Of course, no-one’s suggesting that we actively seek out pain, and most of us are keen to avoid it where possible. However it’s a part of life, and we are better served building a personal capacity to process pain, and learning how to support others in pain, rather than trying to avoid the inevitable.

A recent study, which reveals that people who are thirty-something are now experiencing that mid-life crisis, hints at the precarious situation we place ourselves in when the pursuit of pleasure becomes our goal.

Conducted in Britain, where over 2000 people of all ages were interviewed, the results are revealing. Of all ages, the loneliest were those who were aged from 35-44. They were also the most dissatisfied with their marriages and the unhappiest at work. Of that group, 21% reported feeling lonely a lot of the time and one in five had depression due to relationship problems.

Australian psychologist, Darryl Cross, confirmed that these results are mirrored within our own nation. One of the contributing factors he reported was that the ‘increased prominence of advertising and marketing had led to an unprecedented sense of materialism among young people’. Dr Cross said, “There’s a myth propagated that success equals power and achievement, and that’s not true. Happiness is an inside job, it’s not about external status and possessions.”

When we believe, through social conditioning and the lack of a greater personal narrative, that success is about status and possessions, we will always struggle to measure up to these standards. Our consumer mentality means that we’re always looking for something new to placate that internal restlessness. Our desire for pleasure remains ultimately unassuaged, for amusement soon fades and we are left with yesterday’s solution to today’s discontent.

English novelist, George Eliot, said, “It is only a poor sort of happiness that could ever come by caring very much about our own pleasures. We can only have the highest happiness such as goes along with being a great man, by having wide thoughts and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as ourselves.

I would suggest that life is not about the pursuit of pleasure, but the pursuit of purpose.

A life spent in the pursuit of pleasure is a life poorly spent. A life spent pursuing purpose, on the other hand, will lead to stronger individuals and stronger communities.

Pursuing purpose is often found in what we do for others. Discovering ways to meet other’s needs, rather than frivolously satisfying our wants, is more fulfilling than the pursuit of temporary, self-oriented pleasure could ever be.

To live beyond yourself, rather than beyond your means, is the greatest lifestyle choice anyone can make.

Ultimately, as we pursue purpose, we infuse our life with meaning. With all respect to Mr Simmons, he got it wrong by making a goal of what should be discovered along the journey.

Pleasure is the fruit when purpose is our grand pursuit.


~ Ruth Limkin