How do we define pleasure?

Although ‘pleasure’ is a word commonly thrown around in the 21st Century lexicon, its actual meaning can be illusive. We know that it refers to some feeling of deep satisfaction and enjoyment. We know that it can be a reward mechanism that motivates us to engage in activities that are beneficial for our well-being and survival. But at its very heart, pleasure is a subjective experience that cannot be defined with these broad, general statements. Your pleasure is totally unique to you, and everyone else’s totally unique to them. 

So, rather than trying to understand pleasure in terms of vague dictionary definitions, or in relation to the pleasure described by others, what does pleasure mean to you? If we want to optimise pleasure, we must first identify the source of pleasure in our lives. Below, we’ve listed some broad categories of pleasure to help you identify these sources. 

Physical Pleasure 

This form of pleasure relates to physical sensations (specifically taste, smell and touch). This might be eating a delicious bowl of homemade pasta, unwinding in a hot, fragrant bath, or having great sex. 

Emotional Pleasure 

This form of pleasure refers to the enjoyment of emotions, such as being in love, feeling joy, or experiencing pride. You can think of it as the opposite of zoning out. When you’re in a state of emotional pleasure you are deeply engaged and aware of your own enjoyment. 

Mental Pleasure 

Mental pleasure refers to the enjoyment of mental activities. Have you ever read a book, listened to a podcast, or written an essay and felt a profound sense of pleasure and engagement? Perhaps it was an intellectually stimulating conversation or the mastery of a new piece of music. The absorbed sensation of mental pleasure is akin to a flow state. 

Spiritual Pleasure 

Spiritual pleasure relates to a sense of inner connectedness and peace. This often involves an awareness beyond the ego, a deeper connection with one’s body, and a sense of belonging with the universe. Some people may derive spiritual pleasure from meditation and yoga practices, states of mindfulness, or religious practice. 

Social Pleasure 

This form of pleasure relates to the enjoyment of social interactions and relationships. Spending quality time with loved ones, laughing deliriously with friends, helping an old lady get off the tram. Social pleasure is a sense of belonging and unity with the people around us. 

These categories are a good indication of the multifaceted, subjective nature of pleasure. While it may seem evasive at times, pleasure will find each of us, and we can find it in return. Pleasure exists in the fleeting moments of life. The shared smiles, the intimate touches, the first delicious bite. It won’t hang around to be noticed. Therefore, the only way to optimise pleasure is through awareness and gratitude in the present moment.

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