The Pleasure Principle

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said,  “is foolish.  And what does pleasure accomplish?”  Ecclesiastes 2: 1, 2.

 

Laughter is healing.

Solomon also collected the sayings in Proverbs, so we know he wasn’t knocking laughter completely.  The only fault he found with it was when it was simply sought for its own sake.  Laughter that grows naturally out of friendship and a sense of happiness is one thing, but remember he’s testing himself with pleasure to find out what is good.

 

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.  Proverbs 17:22.

 

Studies have been done on which cancer patients respond the best to treatment, pretty much across the board the ones who survived the most often were those who kept a positive attitude.  Now this doesn’t suggest they laughed all the time, but it does mean they continued to be happy, cheerful and find laughter in things despite the circumstances.

I get Solomon’s not so subtle warning, though, those who seek laughter through foolishness (“fool” in this context is one devoid of a moral compass) in the end find emptiness for no one can sustain such a state without solid life behind them to back it up.  In other words, foolish living brings on destruction of the body and mind to the point that there is no substance to the person’s cheer.  Without a reason to be cheerful, people eventually devolve into bitterness (or apathy), which then turns into a form of humor derived from cynicism and a dark view of everything.

Remember, Solomon is exploring what is worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.  His purpose is to discover what works and what doesn’t in order to find a reason to continue accomplishing “great” things.  As he parties like it’s 1999, he comes to the conclusion that a party without a reason to celebrate is chasing after the winds of happiness and meaning without any solid reason to inspire them.  Pleasure seekers eventually kill themselves with pleasure because every pleasure over indulged plateaus at the level sustained to become the norm.  Once they reach this plateau, to feel something more they must indulge the source of their pleasure in greater quantities or measures in order to notice any difference.

In the case of alcohol or drugs, it doesn’t take a scientist to see the trend in those who party all the time.  A guy who smokes pot once a day will eventually have to either increase his daily hit or make it twice a day; but once he does this his body will begin to metabolize at the twice a day and that will not feel different anymore.  Soon he has to increase it more and more just to feel anything.

But this doesn’t just happen with drugs or alcohol.

I heard a story about J. Paul Getty which has stuck with me over the years.  I don’t know if it’s urban myth or fact, but parable of it is certainly true.  On his deathbed, Getty was asked how much money was enough.  He replied,  “One dollar more…”

I have a hard time calling greed an addiction.  I have a hard time with calling most things an addiction, to be honest, because addiction can mean a certain suspension of responsibility for the individual.  We generally excuse a person who’s addicted because they can’t help the craving their body demands.  It’s hard to condemn someone who has become, for all intents and purposes, tied to a certain behavior through desperate need.  Yet these individuals for the most part didn’t get to this state by being addicted.  They began it by getting high, stoned or whatever term they liked to call their altered state.  At first they would only do it on weekends or at parties; then it became a way to tweak the noses of those in authority—like in school, where smoking in the bathroom seemed daring.  Eventually, however, one person grows up and realizes this lifestyle can’t be sustained forever.  It’s nice to do it once in a while, but to do it all the time becomes boring.  The other person decides they want (or deserve) to be high and feel good all the time, so they seek nothing but pleasure—or the next high.

I have family members who have killed themselves for drug highs.  I have a nephew somewhere now who can’t have sex except with extreme twists in it.  I’ve watched as some of my friends ended up on the street desperate for the next hit, fix or liaison.  What turns into an addiction for the body began as an obsession of the mind.  If we believe “really living” is about the pleasures, then all we will do is strive for those highs.  If we believe life is about stuff, then all we will do is strive for stuff.  If we believe life is about beating the competition, then all we will do is work to beat our competitors and worry ourselves into an early grave about losing.

Pleasure without a reason to support it dissolves into a chasing after the wind—running in circles in pursuit of the fickle impossibilities.

Solomon didn’t stop with wine or sex in his pursuit of happiness or pleasure.  No, he undertook the pleasures of wealth by building gardens and palaces, owning slaves, wealth itself and generally having more of everything.  When he got more than anyone else, he looked around and realized it was empty because “more” didn’t equal quality nor did it give him a sense of lasting purpose or meaning.  He wasn’t lazy about his pleasure seeking either, but industrious and determined, yet it all came down to nothing because there wasn’t any purpose to it but the thing itself.  The thing itself held no meaning except in acquiring it and once that was done, the high was over.

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pleasure.  We have taste buds, a sense of smell, the joy of touch, see color and experience emotions for a reason.  God created the orgasm, which means He wanted to communicate something more than mere pleasure.  We are made in His image, so the orgasm itself speaks to an attribute of God and to understand what it’s saying we must get to know Him.  I’m not talking religious piety in the sense of monastic discovery of these truths, rather I believe that in practicing them we find something true about God’s nature.  Knowing who He is deepens our appreciation of the pleasure we experience.

Look at our bodies’ diverse function for a minute to get what I mean about understanding God’s nature.

Our mouths taste the food we intake to sustain our bodies, which in turn gives us energy and ability to do a host other things with it.  The digestive process produces waste which we eliminate out of two orifices designed for this function.  The waste is said by farmers to be the best fertilizer on earth for the food we consume.  We call it “waste” but really what it is, by God’s design, is the means to feeding ourselves again.  Our bodies break it down into a form the plants can use to feed themselves and produce food for us to do it all over again and thus a cycle of blessing occurs.

So, the mouth tastes and chews and we swallow.  In this process several things happen at once:  The joy of taste in whatever variety the dish, fruit and vegetable or meat supplies. Next, we begin the digestive process by grinding the food to pulp and combining it with saliva in order to swallow it.  Unfortunately, some of us eat our food so fast we barely taste it before it’s swallowed.  The whole effort is there to make the provision of nutrient fuel an enjoyable experience.  The impatient (hey, I’m learning to eat slower) are anxious to get to the next bite for that burst of flavor without savoring the experience and all the tastes available.

This is just one example of what God created for our pleasure.  Yet we know it has been twisted to the point of producing what we call “gluttony” and those who practice it to excess grow obese.  In America, we call obesity a disease, but in reality it is a condition brought on by over indulgence of one of our senses.  Alcoholism is called a disease, but it isn’t technically such because it is a condition produced by excess intake of an alcoholic substance.  A disease is produced by a parasite or organism not chemicals.  A disease produces sickness without our help or interference.  Addictions such as drugs or alcohol only become so when we over indulge them.

Solomon explored every pleasure available in his era and found all of them devoid of meaning or purpose.  This doesn’t mean what God made is meaningless, just that pursuing them without Him at the helm of their purpose produces futility.  For those who over indulge a thing—or many things—repetition becomes hateful and dissolves into the death of pleasure.  For those who take everything in its time, the joy remains.  The gain of the latter is preserving the enjoyment and pleasure promised; the bitterness of the latter is the insatiable state of their appetites.

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3 Responses to “The Pleasure Principle”

  1. Ula Says:

    Love this post. Thanks Jonny. I liked the way you put the words on laughter in Ecclesiastes in perspective to what Solomon said about it in Proverbs. It can seem contradictory if not seen in context. Also, I have always believed that seeking a laugh at the expense of another’s dignity was not funny at all. Also liked how you took that further to the eternal search for pleasure and helping us see that true, pure pleasure is a gift from God. 🙂

  2. tlc4women Says:

    Those who live solely for pleasure on a physical and emotional level are always left wanting another pleasure as in the example you used of the person who began the casual drug use. True pleasure, true meaning comes from a deep, rich fulfilling life of family, work, service to others and love with Christ at the center. Thankfully there is so much more to life than the pleasures of this world.

  3. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

    But each of our other interests are but different form of pleasure. The problem with the pleasure seekers is they can’t find pleasure building a house, washing dishes, cleaning or a myriad of other things that make up life because they don’t understand the variety of pleasures there are if we keep them all in small portions.

    I equate it with eating vegetables and savory dishes versus the dessert-aholic. It’s the mentality of most children that veggies are boring and only ice cream or the like is really good. Whereas a mature palette enjoys the variety of tastes out there and samples many. I love a good dark ale with my food because the bitter/savory beer brings out the sweetness of the dinner. The alcoholic drinks to excess to feel the spin of the room, I drink the beer for the taste and pleasure of the dinner. If children are brought up with a varied diet, they learn to love (not only tolerate) all foods and want that variety.

    It goes for anything in life—if we seek only the desserts of orgasmic foods or activities, we miss out on the enjoyment of sitting on a porch feeling the quiet evening turn to dusk or the beauty in a sunset over the ocean.

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