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Pleasure and How to Access It More Often

Written by Paul Wolf

What gives you pleasure? Is it a weekend getaway, a meal at a four-star restaurant, a shopping spree? 

If you think pleasure is dependant on generous vacation time or your ability to afford an expensive dinner, you're missing out on a wealth of everyday sensuality and joy, says Stella Resnick, Ph.D., author of The

ADVICE
Do you resist or embrace pleasure?
Develop pleasure skills by being open to the moment.  
 
Pleasure Zone

To live a life of maximum pleasure takes an attitude and feeling of openness to every moment, she says. Making the connection among mind, body and spirit is part of learning what she calls pleasure "skills." 

It's our moment-to-moment skills; how we breathe, think and hold ourselves  that allow us to experience pleasure," she says. 

"The grand irony is that most people, to varying degrees, hold themselves back from feeling as good as they can," writes Resnick. We live with the attitude: If it tastes or feels too good, it can't be good for us. Our society remains mired in Original Sin, mistrusting anything not associated with denial and hard work. 

Because we've never been taught to derive pleasure from ordinary life, we become "pleasure-resistant." Pleasure-resistance causes breathing so shallow you can't be inspired by life, and an attitude so hardened you can't be spontaneous. 

We routinely deprive ourselves of pleasure, and yet scientific evidence suggests pleasure is good for us, says Resnick. It releases endorphins, dilates blood vessels and boosts immunity. Just as chronic pain, particularly emotional pain, is a precursor to illness, pleasure may prove to be the most important ingredient of a long, healthy life. 

Pleasure is also good for the soul. It is at the heart of motivation. Anticipating the pleasure of accomplishment is what drives us to clear hurdles. 

Think of the songwriter who stays up all night getting the melody just right. When the song tops the charts, he says, "It just wrote itself." Intense pleasure takes the struggle out of life's challenges. 

When we embrace the splendors of the moment; a musical note, a touch, a kiss, we open ourselves to experiencing pleasure on a deeper level. "If you are not just chasing mindless indulgences, pleasure has a spiritual component, just as one's spiritual journey has a pleasure component," says Resnick. 

The commonplace pleasures of thinking and experimenting, giving and receiving, complimenting and appreciating, observing and savoring, kissing and making love should be practiced every day. 

If your life could benefit from more pleasure, start by giving yourself permission to experience it deeply and often, says Resnick. 

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Take time for pleasure.
Learn to free yourself from the tyranny of the clock. Take a recess from chasing goals. Make time for pleasure.make time for fun 

There are a hundred ways you can free your mind for pleasure. Many are simple: Watch the clouds roll by, soak in a bath with quiet music playing, or exercise outside.

More on taking time... 

 
Free yourself from the tyranny of the clock
Feel the air blowing, watch the clouds roll by, notice how good you feel as you'e walking.  
 

Breathe for pleasure.
Of all the techniques for building your pleasure skills, breathing is the most important, says Resnick. 

When we cut off breathing under stress we don't allow ourselves to exhale. We hold carbon dioxide in and feel stressed as a result. If you've ever had that "stale feeling" around 4 p.m., you may need some good deep breathing. 

Conscious, relaxed breathing can transform you. A simple technique includes taking a deep breath through the nose and releasing the soft exhalation slowly through the mouth. 

Move for pleasure.
A life of movement with a feeling of grace and conscious awareness is pleasure itself. Consider the obvious flowing physical arts such as yoga, tai chi and dance, and other activities you have long wanted to try, such as Pilatesor weight training. 

Laugh for pleasure.
Start with gentle breathing and work your way up to a strong belly laugh. Sit down to a 10-minute laughter session and see how much pleasure it induces. Notice how you can develop the skill of allowing more pleasure to flow through you. 

Turn stress into pleasure.
"Success in life comes from being able to relax during stressful times," says Resnick. 

Take those stressful moments as an opportunity to be courageous and you do more than build character. By consciously opening yourself to novel situations you create openness in your mind, body and emotions. You train yourself not to reject the world but to embrace it. 

Explore pleasures with all the senses.
Become a pleasure-lover by cultivating the myriad joys of the senses. 

Here are three examples:

  1. Ask for regular massages from your partner or give yourself massages with a device like the "ma roller." Zoom in on what feels good. 
  2. Give yourself permission to explore new ways of savoring sex, be it with a partner or solo. Experiment with toys and gadgets that feel good. Focus on the connection between breathing and deep feeling, letting go and sensual pleasure.
  3. Find new ways to explore neglected senses, such as smell and hearing. Pick up an instrument you haven't played in years, for example. 

Take pleasure in nature.
Raise your consciousness and you will experience more pleasure. The word consciousness sounds lofty, but all it really means is that we notice things. It's not hard work. It's just a matter of tuning in. Pleasure comes from observing the world around you, whether you are admiring a work of art or watching a bird in a tree. 

Take pleasure in sharing.
Don't deny yourself the unique joy of giving pleasure to others. Resnick stresses the joy of comforting people, being generous with hugs and overt expressions of support. Pleasure is contagious. Spread it whenever and wherever possible. 

As you learn pleasure skills, take joy in your progress. Pleasure is not an end in itself, but an important part of the journey. 

Do you deprive yourself of pleasure?

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What stands between you and a more pleasurable life? Feelings of guilt? Low self-esteem?  Aquestions about pleasure reliance on alcohol or food? All of these can keep you from fully experiencing the pleasures in each day. 

These 10 questions from The Pleasure Zone, by Stella Resnick, Ph.D., are not intended as a scientific evaluation. Your yes-or-no questions are merely a tool for self-discovery.
 
Think about the questions to which you answer "yes." These are the areas in which you need to develop your pleasure skills.

1. Do you typically deny yourself what you most enjoy : foods you prefer but have convinced yourself are bad for you, work breaks to relax and replenish your energy, little treats and presents?

2. Do you usually feel guilty that you're not doing enough for someone or accomplishing enough?
 
3. Are you a naysayer, more likely to say no to an invitation or a new idea than yes?
 
4. Do you have a hard time acknowledging your success, feeling like an impostor at times or denigrating your accomplishments?
 
5. Do you secretly or openly think of yourself as a victim, powerless to do anything about a bad situation?
 
6. Do you believe that love requires sacrifice and that the only way anyone will love you is if you forfeit your own needs and desires to theirs?
 
7. Do you abuse food, alcohol or drugs, and do you feel you can't have a good time without your favorite substance?

8. Is sex less than wonderful; marred by guilt or shame and limited in passion?

9. Do you have to be in control of a situation, getting competitive with companions who make alternate suggestions and finding it difficult to kick back and relax?
 
10. Do you feel uncomfortable with solitude, making busywork to keep yourself occupied when you're alone?

Photographer: Robert Magorien

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