Tolerating Pleasure

2 Oct

It always saddens me when I hear people who while eating a delicious cookie say, “I’m so bad. I shouldn’t be eating this.” I mean, if you’re going to eat a cookie, you might as well enjoy it. But what I’ve discovered is that people in general struggle with tolerating pleasure. It doesn’t matter what the gratification relates to, many of us are not comfortable with feeling good in some area of our lives.

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As I write a chapter on the subject of desire, I reflect on the underlying issues related to sustaining pleasure and happiness. I am not alone in my observations that our culture, despite all its feel good impulses, actually struggles with embodiment and contentment. In her book Daring Greatly, sociologist Brene Brown writes that through all her research she has come to believe that joy is the most difficult emotion to feel (p.118). She attributes this to the fact that over our life span we become acquainted with all the things that can go wrong, plus we live in a society that puts much focus on catastrophe. Therefore, feeling joy requires a high degree of vulnerability. She states, “Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment” (p.121).

This profound fear of disaster can single handedly keep us from desiring anything. Why fall in love if someone can betray or reject us? Why apply for that great job when we’ll only be crushed if we don’t get the promotion? And why eat that cookie if it adds extra calories? This type of mentality can stop the momentum of joy and transformation in our lives like a train stuck in its tracks. And yet it’s tremendously common for reasons far too vast to unpack in a blog post.


I am not implying that life is one big hedonistic rush or that we can always feel good all the time. After all, too much candy can make us sick and misdirected desire can cause tremendous heartache. But believing that we are worthy of happiness and that life is good fundamentally changes the course of lives. Our heart’s yearnings can serve as a GPS system. Finding ways to fulfill these desires can help propel us through challenging times and shed light on our souls’ deeper journeys. When we experience a modicum of joy we began to transcend the profound struggle inherent in existence and the benefit of this is not simply self-serving. On the contrary, when we are tuned into desire and cultivate it in positive constructive ways, we contribute to the world through our enthusiasm and joy and access our talents and passion for the benefit of others.

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