So if we’re really pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding creatures, what stops us from hauling a chair up to the freezer and spending our days digging in to a quart of cookie dough ice cream? Ah. That’s where the mental and emotional side of pleasure comes in. Too much pleasure of any kind—sex, alcohol, idle days, ice cream, cheese doodles—leads to mental and emotional pain in the form of guilt, remorse and regret. And remember, we are built to Seek Pleasure and Avoid Pain.
This is where the corollary of the Pleasure Principle comes in: the Reality Principle. We are compelled to defer pleasure as a necessity of functioning in our environment. In other words, if you can put off momentary thrills, you’ll net greater pleasure in the long run. The stair master hurts while you’re doing it, and you’d rather be anywhere but under the fluorescent lights in your cubicle at work, but the long-term payoff—making lots of money and looking fabulous in shorts–seems worth it. And if you can just stick to the grapefruit-and-celery-stalks diet for long enough, the story goes, you’ll experience a quantity of pleasure sufficient to override the momentary pain of avoiding food.
So we slog through our days, exercise our bodies in often-punishing regimens, and starve ourselves in pursuit of tight abs, trim bottoms and longer lives. Thus deprived, our bodies, which Seek Pleasure and Avoid Pain, scream out for some kind of intensely gratifying experience. What’s legal, inexpensive, easily available (at least in our culture) and immediately satisfying? You guessed it.
We know pleasure is essential to life; you gotta have it. But where else can you get it, besides food?
Next: 4 ways to find pleasure