Our cat Stella has it all figured out. She wakes up in the morning and stretches languidly. She ambles slowly downstairs to her food bowl, mews out her demands to be fed, eats languidly. When we rub her tummy, she purrs with full-throated delight. She is clearly a creature built for pleasure.
As I watched her wistfully, I realized that, fundamentally, I want the same things she wants (though she gets it more than me): to stretch languidly, to have my tummy rubbed, to cry when I’m hungry, and have someone feed me. Fundamentally, we’re all like cats, or field mice, or penguins, or gorillas: like those other creatures, our basic instinct is to Seek Pleasure and Avoid Pain. It’s what drives us and motivates us.
The concept, also called the Pleasure Principle, is powerful, and very primal. Our bodies are designed for pleasure, and clearly, nature wants us experience it. Many of the things that ensure the survival and continuation of the species—obtaining adequate shelter, sleeping, making babies, eating—are mildly to intensely pleasurable. Of these and other pursuits of pleasure, food is the one activity we practice in public, several times a day.
The taste and texture of food are pleasurable; satiety, or feeling full, elicits pleasurable feelings. Even the act of chewing can relieve tension in the jaw. Some foods, like sugar and carbohydrates, flood the brain with feel-good chemicals. And when you combine endorphin-promoting substances like sugar with high-satiety substances like fat, you get the perfect pleasure-inducing food. Ice cream is a perfect example; that’s why it’s one of the most universally revered and feared foodstuffs.
Next: More on guilt and 4 ways to find pleasure