Note: This is a guest post from Marisol Garcia of The Pleasure Cure
Unemployment, stock market crashes, foreclosures, and increasing national debt are topics that preoccupy Americans today. Most of us are worried, if not petrified, about our financial future. Thoughts about how to survive permeate our lives. We function under the belief that if we don’t work all the time, we will miss an opportunity or lose what we have.
What we may not know is that we need more than financial health to secure our future. We need emotional, relational, spiritual and cognitive well-being as well. This means feeling that we have an overall sense of happiness. If not, scholars note, we won’t flourish to our full capacity; we won’t be as productive and successful as we can be. Researchers have found that people who have an increased sense of well-being or happiness thrive in every domain including work.
But how can we attend to all our needs without compromising our economic vitality? The answer is pleasure. Researchers have found that engaging in pleasure results in greater happiness. Happy people get more things in life because they engage in more pleasure. Not only that, but the most sought after pleasures cost little in terms of time and money.
Some Pleasurable Activities That You Can Do
The following are but a few examples of pleasurable activities that are free, require little time, and have been documented by researchers to increase well-being:
Rocking in a chair, being on a boat, swinging on a swing, or swaying in a hammock relieves physical and emotional ailments. Rocking is argued to be an activity that relieves stress, fear, pain, loneliness, and anger. It has also been documented to heal heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, colds, diabetes, and cancer. Rocking is a soothing technique that is practiced universally in different ways. Rocking produces reactions in the body such as lowered blood pressure and slowing of respiration. These physical reactions tap into the pleasure centers of the brain and produce endorphins that make the body feel pleasured.
Doing nothing promotes clarity, sense of connection, energy, positive mood, and calmness. Doing nothing is sometimes referred to as mindfulness or meditating. Other meditative experiences include praying, running, listening to music, etc. Pleasure is experienced when we meditate because it often brings us to another state of being. In a meditative state, your sense of self and your environment is altered. Additionally, meditative experiences provide a space for one to regenerate energy, hope, and perspective. Meditation has been described as “the best natural high” and has been reported to provide a feeling of “restful, silent, and of heightened alertness.”
Exercise takes as much or as little time as you have. A mere 10 minutes per day makes a big difference. Not surprisingly, researchers report that exercisers are happier than non-exercisers. Exercise contributes to physical and emotional well-being including sexual functioning. People who exercise regularly are at much lower risk of depression and anxiety than those who do not. Exercise increases memory, concentration and clarity of thinking.
Eating is a universal pleasure. Furthermore, a lack of nutrients such as calcium, iron, folic acid, magnesium, etc. is correlated to cognitive and emotional ailments such as depression, anxiety, etc. The only requirement for pleasurable dining is having the intention to make it pleasurable. The French, for example, are famous for the pleasure they get out of eating. That means paying attention to what we eat, making sure we eat sitting down, giving thanks for our food, and/or setting a nice table.
Listening to music can be one of the most exhilarating and motivating experiences. There is overwhelming evidence that music alters mood in a positive way. Music changes our physical and emotional states. Music helps us sleep and reduces anxiety, depression, pain, stress, developmental disorders, traumatic brain injury, etc. Sound is vibration and every part of our bodies feel the vibration, even our cells. Joshua Leads in The Power of Sound says that “sound touches us and influences our emotion like no other source of input.”
Researchers and therapists often prescribe social contact and support when increasing well-being. Happy people engage in more social activities than those who are not as happy. Scholars maintain that in order to have a happy and satisfying life, we must have connections with others. Furthermore, it has been noted that those of us with strong social networks and connections fare better in situations of adversity. Finding ways to connect with others in a way that doesn’t interfere with other responsibilities is a really smart choice as it is the one activity that researchers repeatedly mention to be beneficial to our well-being.
People report that thinking about positive things gives them pleasure (e.g. how grateful you are about something, how good a person is, something exciting happening). Not surprisingly, researchers have noted that happy people tend to have more positive thoughts than those who are not as happy. Happy people see the good before they see the bad. Happy people believe in themselves, others, and the world. One way to experience more positivity is by finding positive reasons for why things happen. Researchers have found that people who attribute positive understandings to events or actions are happier. Dr. Fredrickson suggests that you ask what is going right or what is good right now to shed light as to the positive aspects of an event or interaction.
How to Do Them
How can we engage in more pleasurable activities when there isn’t enough time to do what we have to do as it is? First, give yourself a set amount of time to engage in pleasure. Setting a limit to the time you will spend in pleasure will reduce your anxiety about it. Start of with 15 minutes per day. Try to really engage with what you are doing or thinking during that time by making your mind stay focused. Don’t let it wonder off. If it does, bring it back to what you are doing.
Second, when you do every day things (e.g. washing the dishes, cleaning, driving, eating, grocery shopping, spending time with family/friends, etc.) try and slow the process down so that you enjoy the moment. For example, instead of rushing when you go grocery shopping, take 10 minutes more and enjoy the experience. Ten minutes will not break you as far as time is concerned. You may have to remind myself over and over again that you don’t have to rush.
Third, breathe. How difficult is it to breathe? Very. Each breath may highlight your emotions. At the same time, each breath may give you relief from your emotions.
Fourth, when you start to think about work, fears, the economy, etc., ask yourself, “What is stopping me from feeling pleasure right now?” Generally, thoughts about the future or past and the fear or anxiety that they produce, stop people from feeling pleasure. Also, thoughts that something bad will happen because you are having a good time will limit the pleasure you feel. Many of us believe that any happiness or enjoyment is followed by sadness or bad times.
Finally, find something you enjoy doing. A key ingredient to maximizing pleasure is finding activities that match you. If you are a person who doesn’t like loud noise, a rock concert would not be pleasurable no matter how many other people find it pleasurable. Engage in your own version of pleasure even if it is only for 15 minutes a day. After all, pleasure will help you regenerate your strength if only to handle the economic reality that we face.
Marisol Garcia is a therapist, social researcher, writer, and lecturer. Her book, “Pleasure: The Secret Ingredient in Happiness” has recently been published. She received her doctorate from the University of Connecticut. To learn more about her work, you can visit her website at www.garciawestberg.com and www.thepleasurecure.com.
Photo by Kevin Dooley