Sans the one two punch title, consider the meaning behind pleasure and pain. These two concepts or sensations are both synonymous, at least within modern thought, with good and bad respectively. Pain is “bad” for you, pleasure is “good” for you. The reasons are pretty clear: pain makes you feel bad, and pleasure makes you feel good. So it only makes sense that you pursue one and avoid the other, right?
Well no, it’s not that simple, and the reason is in the sensations themselves. Pleasure is a response to stimuli of some type, whether it be from sight, sound, touch, taste, thought, etc. All of these things in certain ways can produce what one can consider pleasure, and it feels a certain way. The judgement is usually “good”. Likewise, pain is also a response to stimuli. Banging your toe on a corner, having a headache, pulling a muscle.. all of these things are things that stimulate your nerves in such a way that creates the sensation of pain, and it’s generally considered “bad”. Let’s not forget psychological pain, too – usually in the form of past experiences being remembered or worrying about the future.
So on a basic level, pain = bad, and pleasure = good, but the problem here is that it then teaches you to pursue one and avoid the other – which is a trap. Consider the pleasure of being on a drug high from something like heroin – this is a massive amount of chemical euphoria that stimulates you in a pleasurable sense. Is it a “good” thing or is it just a sensation of pleasure?
Likewise, consider a painful massage that restores mobility to your hips. If anyone reading has done deep tissue work on their hips, they know how astonishingly painful that experience can be. Is that pain “bad” or is it just a sensation of pain?
The point behind what I’m writing here is that pleasure and pain aren’t things we ought to pursue or avoid – they are simply part of the experience of..well, living! When we have sex, for example, we experience a lot of pleasurable sensations, but if we constantly yearn for that sensation over and over, it becomes a source of misery over time – because you’re constantly in pursuit of those sensations in order to feel satisfied. Likewise, if one works to avoid pain, you’ll be totally risk averse. The pain of rejection or loss may paralyze you from taking actions, because the sensation is bad and needs to be avoided.
Conversely, this can be applied to all sensations we feel, particularly in emotions. Sadness and happiness work within the same spectrum of pain and pleasure and are things we avoid and pursue, respectively. But then why do we watch movies that make us sad or read books that break our hearts? What is it about the experience of those sensations we want to avoid that we suddenly engage with in particular experiences? Likewise, we watch horror films – why? To be afraid? Why on Earth do we want to feel afraid, but are frightened of rejection when asking a girl out at the same time?
Really sit and think about the aspects of all these sensations, and you’ll start to notice a lot of contradictions when you apply a judgement to them. Objectively, pain, pleasure and our emotional spectrums are just sensations – they are physiological states. This includes mental anguish. When we experience frightening thoughts, they’re not actually “frightening” thoughts. We are just primed to see them as frightening because that is how we have judged them.
Does that mean you ignore the sensation of fear when those thoughts arise though? No, quite the opposite actually. You let it sit and open yourself to it, in full. Fear is an emotion that tends to be right up in your face, but it has no power over you if you don’t do what it tells you. That’s why meditation is so powerful too, because you have to sit with every sensation that comes at you. You learn to be objective about the experience you are having.
So my point is that, instead of pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, look at the sensations and experiences you have as they are, separate to your judgement – through this you can learn to accept reality just as it is, and be okay with that. Of course, everyone wants to have a sense of joy and serenity in their lives, and pain is often a barrier to that – but more often than not, the pursuit of feeling good is, too.
Learn to pursue a life worth living to you, and not the sensations that come with it. Through that, you’ll come to find a sense of serenity in you regardless of what happens.
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3 thoughts on “Pleasure Isn’t Good, and Pain Isn’t Bad”
Interesting article, Froggers. I agree that pain out of context isn’t necessarily bad, and Pleasure out of context isn’t necessarily good. But I actually think that within a long term context, pleasure is good and pain is bad. This “long term context” methodology seems to still apply in your attempts to contradict pleasure = good & pain = bad. Drugs is pleasure short term but pain long term therefore bad. A painful massage is pain short term, pleasure long term therefore good.
This also applies to other sensations that you can’t really categorize under pleasure or pain. Such as tickling. Out of context it doesn’t really mean much. In the wider context of, say, the bonding of two people in a relationship and there is playful tickling then that is something that is good. There is a lot of long term pleasure to come out of it.
I like to think our sensations really do mean something within the context of us being beings that exist in the long term and not the short term. It’s not like there are transcendent facts of good and bad, which I’m sure you also agree.