Hedonism is overrated – to make the best of life there must be pain, says this Yale professor

Hedonism is overrated – to make the best of life there must be pain, says this Yale professor

You’ve probably heard of “toxic positivity”; it’s the practice of being, or trying to be positive ALL the time, even when things just aren’t positive.

The bottom line is it’s unrealistic, unauthentic, and ultimately unhelpful.

Because life isn’t always positive; and pretending it is will just set you up for failure and disappointment.

Live IS positive sometimes … and awesome and fantastic and joyous. But it’s also, at times, painful and distressing.

Which is why I like this article by Paul Bloom from the Guardian and why I encourage you to set aside a few minutes to give it a read …

he simplest theory of human nature is hedonism– – we pursue pleasure and comfort. Suffering and pain are, by their very nature, to be avoided. The spirit of this view is nicely captured in The Epic of Gilgamesh: “Let your belly be full, enjoy yourself always by day and by night! Make merry each day, dance and play day and night… For such is the destiny of men.” And also by the Canadian rock band Trooper: “We’re here for a good time / Not a long time / So have a good time / The sun can’t shine every day.”

Hedonists wouldn’t deny that life is full of voluntary suffering – we wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, take the 8.15 into the city, undergo painful medical procedures. But for the hedonist, these unpleasant acts are seen as the costs that must be paid to obtain greater pleasures in the future. Challenging and difficult work is the ticket to survival and status; boring exercise and unpleasant diets are what you have to go through for abs of steel and a vibrant old age, and so on.

Plainly there’s something right here. Nobody could doubt we possess drives for food, sex, status and much else – and that much of our suffering is chosen with these ends in mind.

But I think hedonism is an awful theory. My latest book, The Sweet Spot: Suffering, Pleasure, and the Key to a Good Life, makes the case for a different theory of what people want. I argue that we don’t only seek pleasure, we also want to live meaningful lives– – and this involves willingly experiencing pain, anxiety, and struggle. We see value in chosen suffering.

After all, people willingly climb mountains, run marathons, or get punched in the face in gyms and dojos. Others, mostly young men, choose to go to war and, while they don’t wish to be maimed or killed, they are hoping to experience challenge, fear and struggle– – to be baptised by fire, to use the clichéd phrase. Some of us choose to have children, and usually we have some sense of how hard it will be; maybe we even know of all the research showing that, moment by moment, the years with young children can be more stressful than any other time of life, (And those who don’t know this ahead of time will quickly find out.) and yet we rarely regret our choices.

Strangely enough, then, we often choose to suffer. A better story of our nature was nicely expressed in the movie The Matrix, where Agent Smith tells Morpheus how the world they are experiencing – a simulation created by malevolent computers – came to be: “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the programme, entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. So the perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.”

… keep reading the full & original article HERE