I’ve always got a bit of a buzz from doing things that scare me or initially seem too hard. So, when I heard a podcast the other day on the ABC’s All in the Mind on The Pleasure of Pain, I listened with fascination.
Apparently, an element of pain or suffering can give us pleasure through contrast: relief after a horror story, bliss after an ice-cold swim, relaxation after a workout, a happy denouement to a sad movie.
But what I found even more interesting, was that the degree of difficulty, struggle, and effort that went into your pursuit – not too hard, not too easy, but just challenging enough (the sweet spot) – affects how much we enjoy something and how much we value it.
This is true from doing a puzzle, to learning a skill, to playing a sport, to raising kids, to doing our life’s work.
So, it’s not just contrast but a feeling of mastery and control that are key. It feels good to put yourself in a bad or difficult situation knowing that you can take it, knowing that it’s under your control, knowing that you can or are doing well in it.
It’s the incremental progress, the struggle, the journey, that makes life enjoyable and interesting.
For me, personally, this explains a lot.
I like the thrill of a scary movie, or a roller coaster ride, or white-water rafting, or being on a glass walkway, or being in nature in the dark. These are small thrills, fears I conquer easily, but nonetheless, that give me pleasure.
Upping the ante, I have, in the past, liked to challenge myself to jump off rocks into the sea, a pursuit I find terrifying but compelling (only if my kids did it first). It was the sense of victory after overcoming the angst, that made it fun.
Currently, I’m in the midst of two pursuits that are scary, challenging, and involve plenty of pain.
I’m writing a book, which is a painful, difficult, tedious, time-consuming, and challenging process. It’s a high-end struggle that is totally self-inflicted. I get up every morning to an alarm and start the day with writing (and a cuppa to make it easier to do). I put the hours in, tear my hair out and question my sanity. But then it flows. It works. And I’ve written something I’m proud of. And it is so worth it, so satisfying, so valuable, that I strive to do it again. I’m climbing the mountain, a day at a time, and the peak is getting nearer. I know I’ve got this. I know what my purpose is. And the journey is worth it.
I’ve also taken up scuba diving again. I did it a dozen times when I was young, when I had friends who did it, when my husband was my buddy. But there was a long hiatus. Taking it up again on my own, when I’m so much older, has been somewhat stressful. So why did I do it? Apart from the obvious – it’s underwater hiking and I’m a sucker for nature – I think it was because of the challenge, the test of my courage. It’s horribly uncomfortable (all that heavy, bulky gear), makes you look terrible (bad hair, no makeup, googly eyes), and there’s a lot to learn. But the achievement is in staying strong enough, having an attitude of WTF, and knowing how to master all that gear and not die under water. I’m fully responsible for myself, something I’ve struggled with all my life. I am learning to be independent and have faith in my mastery of a skill. I’m losing the fear and it’s exhilarating.
I would highly recommend pushing yourself past your comfort zone and experiencing a bit of pain and suffering, whatever that looks like for you. It will give you a buzz like no other and make your life richer and more meaningful.
Life offers plenty of mountains to climb and we can all climb them our own way.
How will you choose to suffer for pleasure, today? 😉
PS. Remember that it is choice, that it is our own direction, that makes any suffering pleasurable.