The opposite of pain is ___________? If you think the answer is pleasure, think again. Take a careful look at some of the greatest pleasures in your life. You will likely find that there is some effort, difficulty, or pain associated with it. Anyone with children knows this very well. In the same breath one can hear parents say, “My children are my greatest pleasure and my greatest pain!” If that’s the case, then what is the opposite of pain? The answer is rather simple: The opposite of pain is no pain, or comfort. 

It is sad to observe how so many people crave meaningful pleasure in their lives; Yet unknowingly, their aspirations are set on nothing more than comfort. I recently had a conversation with an ambitious young man who is searching for some meaning in his life. He told me, “I want to be financially independent.” “Do you currently rely on someone for support?”, I asked. “No, I earn a comfortable living”, he responded. I was puzzled. “Then what does financial independence mean to you?”, I inquired. He said, “That I won’t need to rely on a 9-5 job.” I replied, “That’s a great goal, but that will, at best, only bring you happiness and not meaningful pleasure.” This time he was puzzled and likely so are you. Allow me to explain.

Positive Pleasure or Just Comfort?

In a 2013 article, writer Emily Esfahani Smith focused on a representative study by University of Pennsylvania psychologists concluding that: happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others…. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. 

Happiness here is defined as the tendency to “give the self what it wants.” This tendency is vastly exploited in media and marketing. Advertisements typically create the perception of some shortcoming, distress or suffering, emotional or physical, in our lives that needs to be addressed. The response to that distress is the happiness that will be found in some fancy wrapper or in a new gadget. Bars and pubs even have an hour named after it!  In reality, however, all we are being sold is just comfort disguised as positive pleasure. In order to become a pleasure connoisseur, a person must know the distinction between meaningful positive (+) pleasure and it’s counterfeit- comfort (0).

I hope to elaborate on meaningful pleasures in an upcoming post, but first it’s important to be aware and beware of it’s counterfeit – comfort.  Before seeking a particular pleasure ask yourself: Will this just negate or neutralize a perceived distress or lack that I am experiencing? Is this an easy fix?

Using the chart above- ask yourself: Am I currently experiencing emotions in the minus range? If so, then following your inclination will likely land you at zero. Don’t get me wrong- that certainly feels better than -3, but it is not positive (+) pleasure. [NOTE: Comfort DOES play an important role in our lives. My point here is to bring awareness of when comfort has become a goal unto itself.]

The American Dream

It’s interesting to note that the single simplest response to solve a perceived lack or discomfort is money. That could be why the “American Dream” and the pursuit of happiness are so closely associated with the accumulation of wealth. The “American Dream” has become synonymous with the relief of discomfort from our lives. As a matter of fact, fewer Americans are choosing to be in committed relationships and even fewer opt to have children! That trend always puzzled me- what are the reasons so many are choosing to avoid the meaningful pleasures of a committed relationship or having children? Amongst several various reasons, one is that, without critical thought, people assume the ultimate pursuit in life to be happiness, or giving the self what it wants. The self just wants to be comfortable. That being the case, it actually does not make sense to commit to a relationship or undertake raising children! It’s much safer to stay safe and cozy in the “zero” (0) comfort zone . Why would one want to put themselves in the minus zone (-) when they could avoid it all together!?

Money Can Buy Happiness

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of happiness and pleasure over the course of history. There is so much to think about when setting meaningful goals in our own personal lives. The first step in that process is to distinguish between what is actually meaningful and what is counterfeit.

A newly published study on the topic of happiness examined the responses of 44,000 adult Americans to the question of whether they are “very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy.” The study’s authors report that among adults over age 30, money, education, and prestige were all factors associated with more happiness.

This study also found that happiness did not taper off after reaching a certain high level of income. Adults in the top 10 percent of household income were 5 percent more likely to be “very happy” than those in the second-to-highest 10 percent of income.

What this study suggests is that money actually CAN buy happiness.

What you need to ask yourself- “Is happiness really worth the price or is it just a euphemism for comfort?”

Richard 'Pinny' Roth
Richard 'Pinny' Roth

For more than 10 years in various roles, Pinny Roth has helped individuals, couples, and families become better, healthier people and partners. He is a broad thinker and uses a holistic perspective to weave a clear picture that offers insight and increased self-awareness to his clients. He is EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) trained and assists couples and families working through distance and conflict. His familiarity with DBT enhances his work with individuals who exhibit anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Pinny earned his Master’s from The Wurzweiler School of Social Work in New York City.

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