The Tree Of Knowledge Of Happiness And Pleasure

Tree Good Evil 5And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.  – Genesis 3:22

If there were a secular Bible, it might speak of the Tree of Knowledge of Happiness and Pleasure. Clearly, eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a game changer. Growing aware of the difference between pleasure and happiness is similarly transformative in our personal lives. Sure, good and evil are diametrically opposed. But for most practical purposes, so are pleasure and happiness. Want to be happy? Keep your job. Want pleasure? Nuzzle up to Greta’s breasts over at Human Resources.

Kids exhibit this phenomenon even more clearly than adults. Take my children (please!). My kids are happiest in the bathtub. Whether put in there together or separately, one never fails to hear the sounds of unadulterated joy coming from the bathroom: uproarious laughter, wonder, pleasure and amazement.

Plopped in front of the tv, however, one the sounds of silence. Their faces take on a vacant gaze and they grow glum and irritable. The commercials are too long. They want to watch something else. And most of all, they don’t want to stop watching tv. Indeed, the prospect of turning off the tv brings out the worst in them. They protest, they hem and they haw, they negotiate and grow desperate.

And how do you think they respond to the question “What do you prefer, kids, a bath or television?”

To ask the question is to answer it. Of course they’d prefer to watch tv. They hate the prospect of a bath. That is to say, they’d rather do that which makes less happy. Pleasure does not equal happiness, and much unhappiness is the result of confusion between the two.

You think adults are any wiser than children? Look around. The 40-year old guy unwilling to give up the single life for the commitment required of marriage. The alcoholic who refuses to give up the pleasure of drinking for the joys of a manageable existence. The overweight woman who drowns her sorrow in ice cream rather than the ineffable satisfaction of physical exertion.

So what’s going on here? Why would anyone choose something which they know leads to less happiness? The answer is simple: people generally prefer pleasure to happiness. To put things more simply, if you want pleasure, pursue that which brings you pleasure. If you want happiness, pursue that which brings you happiness. This pleasure/happiness dynamic is a rare exception to the way the world works in that you generally do get what you want – and you get it good and hard.

I have this crazy notion that most people are just like me or, perhaps more aptly put, that most people are just like me. Over time I have taught myself that virtually every decision on makes during the course of a day involves a trade-off between pleasure and happiness. Do I always make the decision favoring happiness? Of course not. Do I like to think that I’m aware that even the most mundane decisions I make, from what to order from the restaurant menu to whether I get in some exercise, has a very real impact on my mood, let alone my personal happiness? Absolutely.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch the sizzle reel of my talk Winning With A Bad Hand.

Happiness Is Hard

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In my home there lives a baby who loves taking a bath but who often must be dragged kicking and screaming to take one. There’s also a boy who eagerly anticipates his reward for completing his homework yet must be goaded into actually doing it. There’s a woman whose mood is boosted by exercise yet sometimes goes days without it. Finally, there’s a man who finds sharing ideas with others enormously gratifying yet often lacks the wherewithal to do just that.

What’s wrong with us?

Our problem  – most people’s problem – is that we think in terms of ease and comfort rather than happiness. Happiness takes an energized body and an engaged mind. Comfort requires only a decent-size sofa.

I know that preparing a new dish for my family will greatly increase my happiness. I know that shopping for the ingredients and working in the kitchen will increase my happiness. But I also know that there’s a yet another frozen pizza in the freezer which can be rendered delicious in less than 20 minutes. And that I can check out my latest Facebook post while I wait.

The next time you consider engaging in any activity, ask yourself “Will it make me happy or will it make me comfortable?”

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch a me attempt to juggle while wearing a volunteer’s glasses.

Difficult Things Make You Happy

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My son loves watching videos and playing games on our iPad. He become giddy with excitement when I allow him to do so. The problem is that when it’s time to stop, he invariably becomes sullen and moody.

I point out to him the transformative effect the iPad or – more precisely – turning off the iPad – has on him. In response, he promises he’ll be more self-aware (my words, not his) when his time is up. And when his time is up, I’ll be damned if he doesn’t slide right back into grumpiness. It’s as if we had never had our conversation.

Conversely, homework is something which he does not look forward to. He’ll do it, to be sure, but he does so grudgingly. And when he’s done? He’s happy.

In short, the iPad makes him unhappy and homework makes him happy. Why then does he not plea for more homework and less time on the iPad? Because he, like most of us, lacks self-awareness. He thinks the iPad makes him happy because it’s fun. He thinks homework makes him unhappy because it’s boring.

Like many others, I have struggled with cultivating the self-awareness to do those things which make me happy. One area where I have largely succeeded is exercise. For example, I’m an avid runner, putting in anywhere between 20 to 50 miles week. My primary motivator is knowing that getting my run in – even if it’s only a relaxed 30-minute jog, makes me happier, not to mention more pleasant to be around. (“I owe it to others!”).

Would I characterize running long distances as fun? Not really. Do I wake up each morning aching to find time to put my tired legs to the test? No. Do I ever put up a big, fat zero in my running long because I just can’t bring myself to lace up and head out the door? All the time. But in general, it because I have enough self-awareness regarding the effects of exercise on my mood to get some in each day.

Notice the parallel: exercising is for me what homework is for my son: not something I particularly want to do but something I have to do because not doing it will make me irritable. Which, funnily enough, makes me want to do it.

If you’re a responsible person, the vast majority of your days are spent doing things you’d rather not be doing. At this very moment I can think of many things I’d rather be doing than sitting in Minneapolis airport writing this blog. So why am I doing it? Because I know that having written it and sent it out into the world I will have accomplished something and accomplishment is one of the greatest sources of happiness.

There’s part of us that wishes we could enjoy a sense of accomplishment without doing the hard work it necessitates. Call it the path of least resistance, the death wish or just plain laziness. The point is that if you think of those things you have to do as essential for happiness, you’d do them more gladly.

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me roll a billiard ball around my head.