Eric Schwitzgebel offers an interesting paradox:
When I was a graduate student, a girlfriend asked me what, of all things, I most enjoyed doing. Eschewing the obvious and half-clever reply, I answered skiing — thinking of those moments of breathing the cold, clean air, taking in the mountain view, then expertly carving a steep, lonely slope. But how long had it been since I’d gone skiing — maybe three years? My girlfriend suggested that if has been three years since I’ve done what I most enjoyed doing, then maybe I wasn’t living wisely.
Schwitzgebel argues that the negatives of these experiences (organizing a ski trip can be a pain) may be what prevents us from doing them more often, and he’s got a point: I love skiing, but what I love is having a great run, when the snow is good, the weather is nice, and the slopes aren’t too crowded. I don’t like long lift lines, and after skiing half a day, I’m sometimes too exhausted to enjoy myself. So I tend to agree with him — certain aspects of skiing can be the most enjoyable, but other aspects are quite unenjoyable. But Schwitzgebel (and CogDaily readers) might be interested in another viewpoint on the matter:
In the book Satisfaction, Gregory Berns argues that too much of a good thing can make it less good. For example, sushi is his favorite food, but if he ate it every day, it wouldn’t seem as good. Part of what we crave is variety. So it’s not just avoidance of displeasure that keeps us from doing our favorite thing all the time, it’s also our craving for variety. I enjoy skiing, but I also enjoy great food, movies, and art museums almost as much. I’d rather spend my life doing some of each of these things, rather than just skiing all the time.
Another point that Berns makes is that the line between pain and pleasure is less distinct than you may think. From ultramarathoners to lovers of spicy food, many people like to do things which are actually painful. Perhaps our avoidance of the things we love actually enhances their pleasure.
As you can see from the Amazon reviews, Berns’ book may be a bit self-indulgent at times (perhaps this is appropriate for a book about satisfaction), but it can also be elucidating. The book is probably half-science, half-memoir, but it’s mostly interesting, and can offer some new perspectives on issues like the ones Schwitzgebel brings up.