Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pleasure is a transaction

I’ve been thinking a lot about pleasure lately, the draw that makes us do things just because they feel good or are fun. My list might include: Agatha Christie, ice cream sundaes, Lost. We all have our own lists.

It occurred to me that pleasure is a transaction. Pleasure, frankly, is something you get. The event itself is unidirectional. But the only real way to understand what’s going on there, I think, is to figure out what you’re giving in return. Because you’re always giving something.

Like my current fixation on Lost. The show is providing me pleasure. What I am giving is mental space. The creators of the show are getting my attention, even my admiration. The stars of the show are getting my vote on their watchability. And, the show’s creators are getting whatever fee is involved with my renting the DVD from Netflix, so I guess that’s my contribution to the cha-ching.

My point is there is a transaction taking place. They give me pleasure, and whether I know it or not, I’m giving something as well. What I want is to be more alert to *what* I’m giving and making sure I do actually want to be giving that.

Human pleasure always requires something of us. In a more aggressive example such as drug abuse, the momentary high cannot possibly balance out with the extreme cost. In money, in self-respect, in futures destroyed. For the person using drugs *is* giving, giving so much that they may self-destruct. And the people providing drugs do not stop taking. They know they’re getting way more than they’re giving.

This, to me, could be a strong working definition of evil. Evil: To know you’re getting more than you’re giving, yet continuing to do so.

This is where to me, pleasure becomes a moral choice. Do I have the self-control to take only when I’m happy to give at least as much as I’m getting? Do I have the self-respect to give only when I’m being equally blessed?

Of course, there’s a step beyond the moral choice. What happens when I reorient my choices to include the Divine? What about working outside the transactional metaphor entirely? What about doing everything to please God?

What happens to a life devoted to pleasing God? Even with the meager thread of serving God that I have running through my life, I’ve seen that when I’m the most unselfed and service-oriented, the results have been beyond anything I ever imagined. The direct benefits to me have been enormous; the satisfaction of being a part of blessing others enriching. And that’s just a thread. An entire life this way would open the floodgates I think.

When I’m at my best, there is no other pleasure than serving God. Genuine service turns every day into Christmas, for God blesses His servants in surprising and unique ways. You can’t be doing it expecting this blessing however. The feeling of pleasure needs to come at the moment of giving, of seeing the delight or comfort in another’s eyes or from doing the right thing. That moment turns the transactional nature of human pleasure on its head, for when giving itself becomes its own pleasure, you’re treading on holy ground.

So, I’m examining my pleasures. What am I giving? What am I getting? How can I uplift the moments to bless the days?

Some thoughts on pleasure, from Science and Health and the Bible:

Every supposed pleasure in sin will furnish more than its equivalent of pain, until belief in material life and sin is destroyed.


Who will stop the practice of sin so long as he believes in the pleasures of sin? When mortals once admit that evil confers no pleasure, they turn from it. Remove error from thought, and it will not appear in effect.


The sinless joy, — the perfect harmony and immortality of Life, possessing unlimited divine beauty and goodness without a single bodily pleasure or pain, — constitutes the only veritable, indestructible man, whose being is spiritual.


Every sensuous pleasure or pain is self-destroyed through suffering.


Selfishness and sensualism are educated in mortal mind by the thoughts ever recurring to one's self, by conversation about the body, and by the expectation of perpetual pleasure or pain from it; and this education is at the expense of spiritual growth. If we array thought in mortal vestures, it must lose its immortal nature.


If we look to the body for pleasure, we find pain; for Life, we find death; for Truth, we find error; for Spirit, we find its opposite, matter. Now reverse this action. Look away from the body into Truth and Love, the Principle of all happiness, harmony, and immortality. Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.


Spiritual sense, contradicting the material senses, involves intuition, hope, faith, understanding, fruition, reality. Material sense expresses the belief that mind is in matter. This human belief, alternating between a sense of pleasure and pain, hope and fear, life and death, never reaches beyond the boundary of the mortal or the unreal. When the real is attained, which is announced by Science, joy is no longer a trembler, nor is hope a cheat.


Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

--Luke 12:32

if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.

--Gen 33:10 if

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

--Matt 3:17 This

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At 3/09/2006 01:10:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

It's interesting that you should post this today, because it kind of ties in to something I blogged about this afternoon. I was looking at a book review in the Monitor and thinking about all the things I support that maybe I don't *want* to support when I participate in the mindless consumerism that drives us to buy things we don't really need or want, in the (usually mistaken) belief that they will bring us pleasure.

I'm conducting a little experiment to see what happens when I decide to confine my purchases to things I really want or need, and when I decide to support the little guy in all my purchases. I imagine I'll find blessings in unexpected places.

At 3/09/2006 07:07:00 AM, Blogger joy said...

So inspiring, thanks Laura, and Emily for your comments.


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