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How to bring happiness and emotional reward to your life by analogy with pleasure — the series

I’ve written, thought, and acted on distinguishing between pleasure, happiness, and emotional reward. I like them all, but sometimes life creates situations where sacrificing one will get more of another. Knowing their differences and similarities helps you figure out how to create the optimal balance of each in your life.

For example, lately I’ve been experimenting with cold showers, although the following applies for any other SIDCHA or challenging activity. It’s incredibly important for improving your life if you prefer living to sitting on the couch eating ice cream. Everybody I tell about them who hasn’t tried them evaluates the idea of cold showers in terms of physical pleasure only. I did too before I did it — their obvious physical discomfort stands out above all other considerations if you haven’t experienced them and learned about the emotional reward they can create if you prepare your beliefs effectively.

If you didn’t know how to distinguish physical pleasure from emotional reward, you wouldn’t know you could sacrifice pleasure for reward. Then you wouldn’t realize the loss of pleasure ended with the shower at five minutes while the reward would last indefinitely, along with the skills to handle future challenges. The daunting fear of the physical discomfort dominates your thoughts and emotions so much, it drowns out any other considerations, in this case potential for personal growth and skill development.

This series helps distinguish pleasure, happiness, reward and how to use that understanding to create more of each.

Click on the table of contents to the left to see different posts in the series. (Note I added the first and last posts from outside the series since I considered them relevant. I hope that doesn’t confuse anyone.)

The Model: reward, happiness, and pleasure

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Two days ago we first saw the complete Model. Now we’ll begin discussing it. First let’s clarify the central points of pleasure, happiness, and reward.

At this level of simplification, the Model distinguishes between pleasure, happiness, and reward, though outside the Model they overlap more than in the Model. Different people define each term differently, so I’ll clarify mine.

You feel pleasure based on direct stimulation of your senses. Pleasure motivates you to bring about the thing in the environment that created the pleasure — things like foods that taste good and materials that feel good.

You feel happiness not at merely something feeling good. You feel happiness when your beliefs and expectations resonate with your environment. Happiness motivates you to maintain that cycle — things like being with friends. You can feel happy even when you aren’t feeling pleasure and vice versa.

You feel reward not at merely being in a situation that seems right. You feel reward when all of your environment, beliefs, and behavior resonate with your emotions. Moreover, you can feel reward even in situations where you wouldn’t feel pleasure or happiness. For example, I feel reward when I run a marathon, though I feel the opposite of pleasure and happiness while running it.

My rule of thumb is you feel happy when you find a dollar on the ground. You feel reward when you earn it.

We have presented all the elements of the cycle, though we have barely scratched the surface of its meaning or what we can do with it

Tomorrow: the evolutionary origins of our emotions

How to bring happiness and emotional reward to your life by analogy with pleasure, part 1

[This post is part of a series on creating happiness and reward by understanding pleasure. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

You may have heard the phrase that we aren’t designed to be happy.

I agree with the concept. More than that, since in the Model we consider not only happiness but emotional reward, other pleasurable emotions, and physical pleasure too, I would further say we aren’t designed to feel physical or emotional pleasure either. By emotional pleasure I mean emotions you like to feel — like happiness, joy, satisfaction, etc.

When some people understand these points they give up on improving their lives. Seeing no point in trying, they accept misery and suffering they don’t have to. Of course, they don’t say it so bluntly. They just respond to things that bring them down with “that’s life” or “who said life was fair?” or some other statement of resignation or learned helplessness. And they surround themselves with other suffering people who reinforce their resignation.

You may not get reward, happiness, and other pleasurable emotions automatically, but one of the main consequences of learning the Model and Method is learning that you can bring about as much reward and whatever emotion as you want.

Even people who haven’t given up on improving their lives miss the potential reward available to them, so let’s understand that potential and make it more attainable to you. An analogy with physical pleasure will help.

You aren’t designed to feel pleasure all the time any more than you are to feel happiness. You only feel pleasure when something in your environment prompts pleasurable sensations. If you know what prompts pleasure you can create as much as you want for yourself.

If you’ve thought about it, you’ve probably realized why pleasurable things feel pleasurable (earlier posts spelled it out in what I call a functional view of emotions). Pleasure motivates you to bring about more of what caused it. Today’s world, with junk food and other things that feel pleasurable but damage your health, confuses the issue, but I bet that in our ancestors’ environments nearly everything pleasurable was healthy.

That is, pleasurable things feel pleasurable to motivate you doing more of those things. They were healthy for our ancestors, so we descended from the ones whose emotional systems motivated this healthy behavior.

Pain makes as much sense as pleasure from this functional perspective. Pain motivates you to avoid what caused it. I bet everything painful was unhealthy in our ancestors’ environments. Again, today’s world can confuse us because we’ve created unhealthy pleasurable things and we’ve created cars and other labor-saving devices to avoid healthy unpleasurable activities like exercise (those activities can be pleasurable if we do them, but we avoid them anyway). So knowing our roots helps, as the endurance of the philosophical advice “know thyself” suggests.

Knowing the functional roles of pleasure and pain reveals how to bring about or avoid each — just think of what was healthy or unhealthy for your ancestors and bring them into your life or avoid them.

Speaking of pain, when you recognize it helps keep you healthy, avoiding getting burned, cut, and so on, it doesn’t make sense to call it bad, act like you didn’t feel it when you did, wonder why pain happened, or wish you never felt it. This clarification will come back when we look at unpleasurable emotions, since people often call anger, hatred, and the like negative or bad, missing their functional role similar to physical pain.

You probably realize you can bring about as much physical pleasure as you want. Even so, you probably don’t want pure pleasure exclusively in your life. You probably want a life with mostly pleasure, accepting or even celebrating that you sometimes feel pain and that you have to work to bring about some of the pleasure. The more you know about your evolutionary past the more physical pleasure you can bring about. Today’s world differs from the world where our emotional systems evolved and you know that difference warps some of the our emotions’ effectiveness. Knowing more about pleasure doesn’t decrease how good it feels, though.

Okay, now let’s get to the meat of this post. Applying what we know about physical pleasure and how easily we can create it to emotional pleasure to see how easily we can create it.

Everything about physical pleasure, which comes from interacting with your physical environment, has an analogue with emotional pleasure like happiness and joy, which come from interacting generally with your social environment. In SAT terms you could say

physical pleasure : emotional pleasure :: physical environment  : social environment

When you realize and understand

  1. how easily you can bring about physical pleasure
  2. the functional role of emotions
  3. the analogy between physical and emotional pleasure and physical and social environments

then you realize how easily you can bring about pleasurable emotions. All you have to do is bring about healthy social situations analogous to healthy physical situations — things like being a good member of your community and family, learning and improving yourself, and staying healthy.

Just like bringing about physical pleasure brings physical health (when you know to adjust for environmental changes our emotional systems haven’t had time to adjust to, meaning eating fresh fruit and exercise, not junk food and video games), bringing about emotional pleasure brings emotional health.

You could re-read this section using that analogy to understand how to bring about more emotional pleasure in your life. In fact, I will rewrite it tomorrow to clarify, then extend it the next day to show how to bring about more emotional reward in your life.

How to bring happiness and emotional reward to your life by analogy with pleasure, part 2

[This post is part of a series on creating happiness and reward by understanding pleasure. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Yesterday I wrote about how to bring about emotional pleasure in your life. Today I’ll clarify and explore the analogy

physical pleasure : emotional pleasure :: physical environment  : social environment

In particular, you can bring about emotional pleasure the same way you bring about physical pleasure, just with healthy social situations instead of healthy physical situations. By emotional pleasure I mean all emotions you like to experience, like happiness, joy, satisfaction, and so on.

If you’ve thought about it, you’ve probably realized why emotionally pleasurable things feel pleasurable. Emotional pleasure motivates you to bring about more of what caused it. Today’s world of seven billion people, with social situations unseen in our ancestors’ times, confuse the issue, but I bet that in our ancestors’ environments nearly all emotionally pleasurable situations were healthy.

That is, emotionally pleasurable situations feel pleasurable to motivate you bringing about more of those situations. They were healthy for our ancestors, so we descended from the ones whose emotional systems motivated this healthy behavior.

Emotional pain makes as much sense as emotional pleasure from this functional perspective. Emotional pain motivates you to avoid what situations caused it. I bet everything emotionally painful was unhealthy in our ancestors’ environments. Today we’ve created unhealthy emotionally pleasurable situations and we avoid healthy emotionally unpleasurable activities like personal challenge (those activities can be emotionally pleasurable if we do them, but we often avoid them anyway), so knowing our roots helps, as the endurance of the philosophical advice “know thyself” suggests.

Knowing the functional roles of emotional pleasure and pain reveals how to bring about or avoid each — just think of what was healthy or unhealthy for your ancestors and bring them into your life or avoid them.

Speaking of emotional pain, when you recognize it helps keep you healthy, avoiding getting shunned, cast out of a group, and so on, it doesn’t make sense to call it bad, act like you didn’t feel it when you did, wonder why emotional pain happened, or wish you never felt it. From a functional perspective, calling anger, hatred, and the like negative or bad makes no more sense than calling physical pain negative or acting like you don’t feel it when you do.

You probably realize you can bring about as much emotional pleasure as you want, though it’s harder to bring about than physical pleasure because it often involves other people. Even so, you probably don’t want pure emotional pleasure exclusively in your life. You probably want a life with mostly emotional pleasure, accepting or even celebrating that you sometimes feel emotional pain and that you have to work to bring about some of the pleasure. The more you know about your evolutionary past the more emotional pleasure you can bring about. Today’s world differs from the world where our emotional systems evolved and you know that difference warps some of the our emotions’ effectiveness. Knowing more about emotional pleasure doesn’t decrease how good it feels, though.

Okay, now let’s go farther. Yesterday I pointed out applying what we know about physical pleasure and how easily we can create it to emotional pleasure to see how easily we can create it. I fleshed that out above.

Today I want to show that the same analogy shows how you can bring about a lifestyle of emotional reward — that is, filled with the feeling that everything within it feels right, not like you’re faking it or following someone else, but living according to your values, meaning, and purpose. Many people would call this lifestyle spiritual, holistic, or something like that. I prefer to call it rewarding or emotionally rewarding to be more precise.

Everything about emotional pleasure, which comes from interacting with your social environment, has an analogue with emotional reward, which comes from interactions of your emotional system. In SAT terms you could say

emotional pleasure : emotional reward :: social environment  : emotional system

When you realize and understand

  1. how easily you can bring about emotional pleasure
  2. the functional role of emotions
  3. the analogy between emotional pleasure and reward and social environments and your emotional system

then you realize how easily you can bring about emotional reward. All you have to do is bring about healthy environments, beliefs, and behaviors.

Just like bringing about physical pleasure brings physical health (when you know to adjust for environmental changes our emotional systems haven’t had time to adjust to), bringing about emotional pleasure brings emotional health, bringing about emotional reward brings about a rewarding lifestyle and what many would call spiritual health.

You could re-read this section using that analogy. In fact, I will rewrite it tomorrow to clarify.

How to bring happiness and emotional reward to your life by analogy with pleasure, part 3

[This post is part of a series on creating happiness and reward by understanding pleasure. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Two days ago and yesterday I described how seeing how easily you can create physical pleasure in your life shows how easily you can create emotional pleasure — as much as you want.

Today I’ll go a step further — how to create as much reward as you want. Remember, emotional reward is the feeling that everything in the relevant cycle syncs with everything else. It encompasses emotional and physical pleasure and more.

Though in most cases emotional reward feels better and more all-encompassing than physical and emotional pleasure, it is easier to create because you can do it yourself. The key analogy here is

emotional pleasure : reward :: emotional environment  : emotional cycle

It feels better because it lasts longer and makes you feel better about more parts of your life. Generally when people feel a lot of emotional reward they describe the feeling as more spiritual or holistic.

If you don’t know the Model, you like to get that feeling, but you don’t know how to create it. That’s why people describe it so vaguely and it feels to them like it comes from outside them. When you know the Model, the feeling feels just as great, but you know where it came from and how to recreate it.

So reward is easy to create, feels as good or better than anything else, and you have all the tools you need to create it. What more could you want?

How do you create it? The short answer, in keeping with the past couple posts, is by analogy with creating physical and emotional pleasure.

To create physical pleasure, bring about things in your physical environment that are healthy for your body (or that were healthy for your ancestors) and avoid physically unhealthy things.

To create emotional pleasure, bring about things in your social environment that are healthy for your social life (or that were healthy for your ancestors) and avoid socially unhealthy things.

To create reward, synchronize the elements in your emotional cycles so they don’t conflict. Get your environments, beliefs, and emotions to bring about the emotions you like of the characteristics you want.

The long answer is to use the Method, which is rewarding in itself. The point of the last three posts was to show how straightforward making your life as fulfilling and rewarding as you like is. Just like filling your life with physical pleasure.

A model to find reward anywhere, anytime

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever find yourself frustrated, impatient, disappointed, anxious, or feeling some similar emotion and wish you could not feel it? Do you wonder how some people can keep calm or at least not lose control in situations more difficult than you can and wish you could too?

Do you want to know how to handle yourself in situations you don’t like and can’t control?

Today’s model derives from the Model. If you get the Model, it will be obvious. I’ll remind you of a distinction the Model makes, that I believe follows regular uses of the words, between pleasure, happiness, and reward. If the following uses of the words aren’t exactly how you use them, please don’t get hung up on the words so much as the meaning behind them. The meaning of the terms overlap in regular usage and I’m artificially distinguishing them to highlight slight differences.

I’ll use the word pleasure to describe a physical feeling you like. Maybe physical pleasure might be a better term; substitute that if it works better for you. Many things can give you pleasure — food you like, smells you like, a massage you like, falling asleep when you’re tired, and so on. The cause always comes from your environment.

I’ll use the word happy to describe emotional feelings you like. Many emotions can be happy emotions. They always motivate you to keep something in your environment the way it is. Many things can bring happiness — good times with friends, finishing a project, seeing your child succeed, and so on. Compared to something that brings just pleasure, something that bring happiness is more complex and doesn’t just come from something you sense. When you feel happy or a related emotion you want to keep whatever caused it the way it is.

I’ll use the word reward for the feeling you get when things are the way you like them, but in particular for something you helped bring about. You get reward from how you interpret and react to your environment, even parts of it you can’t change, because you can always change your beliefs to interpret your environment differently.

A model to find reward anywhere, anytime: Pleasure and happiness depend on your environment. Reward doesn’t. You can get reward under any conditions.

Did you notice this major difference between pleasure and happiness on the one had and reward on the other? Happiness and pleasure come from something external, meaning they depend on things outside your control, meaning you can lose them. Reward comes from how you interpret your environment and behave with respect to it — which you can do independent of the environment.

In other words, you can create reward under any conditions. I believe Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl meant this when he wrote about finding meaning in life even under worse physical conditions than anyone reading these words will likely face

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.

When I use this belief

I use this belief in situations I don’t like but can’t change. I think of how to perceive them differently by changing my beliefs. The result? I can create reward even amid pain (physical, emotional, or otherwise) and unhappiness. Then I’m more capable of handling the situation and creating results I want.

In other words, I feel better and improve my life faster. What more could you want than a better present and as good a future as you can create?

Will I be able to handle situations as difficult as Frankl if I face them? I hope I never have to find out. I hope nobody ever again has to find out. But if I do, I hope I learn from him and find myself able enough to create reward and meaning amid torture and deprivation. In the meantime, I plan to use what he shared to live life with as much as possible.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces helplessly accepting situations I don’t like. It replaces misery and complacency with reward and effective action.

I can’t solve every problem that comes my way but I can control how they affect me and how I react to them.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to independence and resilience.