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The Purpose and Pleasure Principle

The Purpose and Pleasure Principle

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Are you driven by Purpose or Pleasure?

We constantly refer to “wellness” or “wellbeing” as being something more holistic to strive towards than simply “happiness”.
If we ask people what “wellness” means to them we will often hear terms such as “physical health”, “mental health” or “balance” in their response.  Let’s assume that optimal mental and physical health is a desirable state to work towards.  So how do we achieve that? 

If we look at physical health, it somehow seems easier to identify the changes we need to make.  After all, we can all tell when we are “unwell”.  Improvements in strength, fitness, flexibility and body fat levels are all frequently cited as being good areas for focus if we are to become more physically “well”.

But what about mental wellness – closely aligned or some might say interchangeable with “emotional wellness”?  Now that’s more difficult to define. Apart from the more serious and debilitating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety that so many people struggle with these days, there are less severe levels of “disquiet” or “discontent” that we might experience that are often hard to put a cause to, other than the fact that our lifestyle seems to be out of “balance”.

So what needs to be balanced better?  A few places to look might be:

  • Time we spend at work and at home
  • Time we give to others and time for ourselves

A closer look at these two might reveal some discrepancies between what we value and what we do.  There are many ways of categorizing where our issues arrive and a common one is Work/Life balance. (Interesting that the phrase implies that Work is the opposite to Life!) So here’s another slant – Does our orientation lie closer to seeking purpose or pleasure?  I recently came across a book by Chris Skillett called “When Happiness is not Enough” in which he puts forward the idea that very often, our lack of satisfaction with life is our inability to achieve a balance between the drive for pleasure and the drive for satisfaction. Let’s look at this more closely.

The purpose versus pleasure driver

We would all agree that experiencing pleasure on one hand and then experiencing satisfaction of achievement both contribute to feelings of wellbeing.   However, an excess of one over the other can lead to problems. Striking a balance between the two is the way to achieving a fulfilling life.  Think about it.  If we lean towards seeking pleasure continually we may well be drawn to a life of excess and lifestyle problems.   However, an excessive focus on achievement will create a different type of problem typified by the over achieving individuals who burn themselves out with huge working hours and a constant feeling of pressure to go after the next goal.

But this potential imbalance can be experienced in other areas of life.

What will dictate which side we lean towards is our value system.  When we can identify which our biggest driver is, we will soon understand what shapes our behavior.

Ask  yourself –

  1. When considering your overall life, do you tend to value the drive to achieve or the experience of pleasure?
  2. What does “personal growth” mean to you?  Is it about “knowing yourself better” or striving to be a better person.

We are often obliged to make decisions based on this balance between pleasure and achievement and we will find that we have a preferred style.

Consider these four lifestyles:

  1. The driven lifestyle – high achievement, low pleasure
  2. The stagnant lifestyle – low achievement, low pleasure
  3. The indulgent lifestyle – low achievement, high pleasure
  4. The fulfilled lifestyle – high achievement, high pleasure

Various stages of our life may steer us more towards one of the quadrants listed above more than the other. When we are younger the need to achieve may be more important – to set ourselves up and create a place in society.  As we age, our focus may shift towards enjoying the moment and the simple daily pleasures of life.

Ideally we will have balance of both of these in our leisure, our work and our relationships.  It is also easy to see how incompatibility issues may arise if we choose to share our lives with someone who has a very different driver from us.  The weekends may involve a constant battle between the desire of one, to “get things done” and the other “to relax and chill out”.  Sound familiar?

A workplace can also be geared more towards one than the other.  Does your organisation focus purely on KPI’s and achieving goals, or does the happiness and enjoyment factor of its employees figure into the equation?  Different industries may require different focus and different leaders may create different environments to suit their drive.

The important thing is to recognize how the two drivers influence our life at any time and to attempt to find a balance that works for us at any given point in time.   If we feel that our “wellness” is not at its best, perhaps a quick review of whether we are experiencing enough pleasure and satisfaction in all areas of our life would be a good place to start fixing things.
Stay warm and well,

Posted by from Wellness Coaching Australia

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