pleasure pain paradigm

The mere brute pleasure of reading, the sort of pleasure a cow

must have in grazing.”

– Gilbert K. Chesterton

The pleasure pain paradigm posits that people in general seek pleasure and avoid pain. If that were the case, most professional and world class athletes would not enjoy the pleasure of being a champion, avoiding the pain of training. For most, pleasure is a certain level of sensory stimulation. Too much stimulation can become painful. A common denominator in both pain and pleasure is pressure. Just the right amount of pressure can be very pleasant whereas too much pressure can be uncomfortable, and more pressure yet, painful, and even more yet, excruciating.

Pressure is being pressed. We are pressed by atmospheric pressure, and we are pressed by psychelogical pressures. Depression, suppression, oppression, repression, impression, expression, are all forms of psychelogical pressure. All pressure is not a bad thing; in fact without some pressure, we would collapse. Like stress, some is bad (distress) and some is good (eustress). If somebody takes their hand around your arm and squeezes, it may feel pleasant, up to a point; if the pressure increases, it begins to be unpleasant and can become painful. What is your optimal level of pressure? Because pressure is a common denominator in both pleasure and pain, understanding your need for some can assist in determining what is too little and what is too much, for you.

Too little pressure is kin to not enough stimulation, and we feel bored; too much pressure is kin to too much stimulation, and we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed can be experienced as pleasant, but most pleasure that comes from too much pressure is when that pressure is released. A good example is sex. The heights of sexual excitement is often described as ‘hurts so good.’ But, again, the real pleasure of the building tension in sex is release of that tension, and the ‘afterglow.’

Building psychelogical pressure can be painful and the release of that pressure in the form of anger, or violence, or crying, or even laughing, can be a kind of pleasure. Excessive and sustained psychological pressure, experienced as distress, can become a chronic situation of ongoing depression. Depression has been suggested to be the repression of anger. One pressure system weighs down on another pressure system. The release of this internal psychelogical pressure is imperative if health is to be maintained. When done safely well, the release can be as pleasant as is an orgasm.

Psychelogical pressure is also responsible for psychelogical pleasure. Some pleasure is more intense and short lived, other pleasures, simple pleasures, are hardly intense at all, and long lived. The pleasure pain paradigm can get distorted such that what is painful is pleasure, and what is pleasure, is painful. If pleasure is a preference, consider the various word labels we have to represent pleasure. There are many words that can represent psychelogical pleasure such as contentment, serenity, comfort, mellow, mirthful, refreshed, relaxed, and many more. Perhaps the most basic of simple pleasures is a peaceful walk in the woods. And yet, there may be some pain getting there as one navigates the ever growing traffic conditions. Pain on the path towards pleasures are not to be avoided, they are to be traversed. If given a choice between pain or pleasure, clearly people would choose pleasure and there may be times when the avoidance of pain requires also the avoidance of a pleasure. To avoid a dysfunctional romantic relationship, if even some pleasures may abound, is to avert a pain, and a pleasure, for the sake of general well-being, which itself is pleasant. The pleasure pain paradigm is more than simply seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. There are cost/benefit calculations that go into decisions about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

It is a clear gain to sacrifice pleasure in order to avoid pain.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer


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