The balance of pleasure and pain

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By: Annie Sragner, Associate Arts & Life Editor

Every living animal and plant is wired to avoid pain. Pain is unpleasant, and often a companion of death. Every survival instinct we have leads us away from these feelings.

Given a choice, we often opt for pleasure over pain. The term “hedonism” explains that the ultimate aim of human life is to quench our desires, and we are raised to desire pleasure.

So much of our everyday behavior is centered around the quest for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, especially in the 21st century where people love pleasure as quickly as they can get it.

Behavior that requires delayed gratification, like cooking a healthy meal, will often be disregarded and replaced with an alternative that supplies a near-future reward, like fast food. These choices may not be good for us in the long run, so why do we turn them into habits?

I have a suspicion that this theme is rooted in the concept of dread. We dread reliving past experiences that were once painful or undesirable, like going to the dentist or chipping away at a boring mountain of work.

A lot of the things that don’t please us are also not entertaining. The modern world of binge-watching Netflix and celebrity-saturated Hollywood films, tell us to enjoy and desire entertainment. These invented means of entertainment serve only to distract or provide a temporary break from the “real world.”

But if we avoid pain at all costs, we really don’t have a comprehensive human experience. It’s like the saying that it is better to feel pain than nothing at all. Isn’t it is better to feel a broad range of emotions than to be narrowly content all the time?

This concept parallels the dilemma of being a depressed genius or a happy idiot. Frequently, the more one finds out about this flawed world, the less innocence is retained and the more jaded we become.

The solution lies in what you do with the pain or pleasure. To be a well-rounded person, try to appreciate the beauty and value in both of these feelings.

Pain and pleasure can both be boiled down to psychological experiences. Once we stop fearing pain, it can no longer hurt us. Conversely, once we stop considering pleasure a reward, it can no longer tempt us.

Consider how much of your life is driven by the binary of pain and pleasure. Every person is guaranteed to experience both during this lifetime, but they can only control us as much as we let them.

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