I wrote this post several weeks ago when my family went to see Grandma for a few days, so, chronologically, it is not accurate, but the gist of it still applies.
I decided to take it easy last night: get some takeout, some dessert, watch some mindless things on the Internet.
I knew I should have stopped eating and watching way before I did, but hey, I don’t get to do it often and it was such a pleasure…
The thing is, today, I don’t feel so great. I feel tired and “blah” all around.
And I was wondering, what is it about pleasure that often leaves us with this “blah” feeling?
Aren’t we supposed to make ourselves happy?
So, the nerd that I am, I pulled a definition of the word pleasure from Merriam-Webster online:
1 : desire, inclination
2 : a state of gratification
3a : sensual gratification
b : frivolous amusement
4 : a source of delight or joy
and then I got curious about the word joy
1a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety
2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
3 : a source or cause of delight
Well, this didn’t help me the whole lot, as these two words are somewhat related. But pleasure seems to be associated more with the feeling in the body while joy seems to be more ethereal.
Pleasure also seems to be related to addiction. Something is making us feel good (like burritos, and wine, and chocolate, and looking at pretty things online, and reclining in a favorite chair) so we want more of it.
The thing is, it doesn’t really make us satisfied and whole. It sometimes feels like feeding some sort of insatiably hungry creature sitting inside. It is only feeling satisfied while it is being fed. And there is definitely the feeling of hangover when we’ve consumed too much of this good thing.
When I feel joy, it is more like feeling peace and happiness and gratitude. The feeling is longer lasting and doesn’t leave a bad taste or a headache the next day.
I think of moments when I feel joyful and they don’t have to necessarily be pleasant. Like climbing a mountain or raking leaves or cooking a meal for the family. I mean, there can be joy in hard work or mundane things.
I have these memories of my mom sewing or peeling potatoes… I cannot say that watching her do these things was a pleasure. It was not something that I would seek to watch purposefully. But when I happened to be sitting with her, watching her work was pure joy.
Her hands were like separate beings, performing their tasks with mastery and ease and grace. No energy was ever wasted on unnecessary motions. There was a precision and dexterity that she possessed because of the hours she had spent perfecting these skills. And there was also a sense of presence that I think just sort of rubbed off on me in those moments. That’s why these memories are so vivid.
Honestly, I don’t remember half of the things I watched on YouTube last night. I am also pretty sure that last night will not be one of those I am likely to reminisce about in a couple of decades.
I think that culturally though, we are sort of conditioned to seek pleasure over joy. And, clearly, it doesn’t make us happy.
I thought of these two podcasts when I wrote this post:
On Being: Mike Rose “The Intelligence in All Kinds of Work, and the Human Core of All Education That Matters”
Tara Brach: “The Realm of Hungry Ghosts”