Pleasure is the most temporary of the positive emotions: a here-and-now emotion.
As it’s associated closely with bodily states and the earliest of evolutionary developments, it’s possibly at the root of all positive emotions. It can be intellectually difficult to separate the physical sensation of pleasure from the emotion of pleasure. This is because they are so closely related, and there’s a physical component to emotional pleasure.
As its opposite, pleasure is usually contrasted with pain. While the experience of pleasure elicits a smile, pain elicits the expression of a frown. Pain is something people want to keep away from and not repeat. Pleasure is something people seek and repeat. Pain relates to the detection of, feeling of, and protection of cell damage. Pleasure relates to perceptions of things that will contribute positively to cell structures.
Sadness and despair are forms of emotional pain. Rather than direct physical damage, they relate to negative social circumstances. Gladness and elation are forms of emotional pleasure. Rather than direct physical stimulation, they relate to positive social circumstances.
Pleasure is highly associated with the functions of the body. It serves the necessities of biological regulation in instinctual ways. The amount of pleasure people gain from different foods and beverages will depend on how much they have consumed of those items. If people have been doing an intensely physical activity for several hours, the taste of food and drink will be more pleasurable than if they had done no physical activity. People will gain more pleasure, in these cases, from items that have a greater calorific or hydrating value. This is because bodies need more calories and water when they have been active. People need more food, and the taste of the food is more pleasurable, so this urges them to consume more and receive more calories. The water people drink after exerting themselves tastes intensely more pleasurable than the water they drink when they are fully hydrated. The heightened taste compels them to consume more.
This is evidence of an evolutionary homeostatic – maintaining balance through change – nature to the sensation of pleasure. Pleasure is not only concerned with the perception of positive sensations, but also the perception of how much of a specific substance is good at a specific time. Pleasures are sensitive to needs. Mineral content, vitamin content and basic calorific values are simple examples of the body’s continuous regulation of its environment using pleasure. Thousands of bodily processes are detected and regulated in a similar automated/instinctual manner. These processes have broad variation. The body states they encompass range from muscle tension to wavelength detection.
A twenty minute daily exposure to sunlight has been shown to reduce blood pressure by about ten percent. To phrase it another way, being without sunlight exposure increases blood pressure by about ten percent. The sensation of pleasure from sunlight on skin is also a simple example of pleasure’s relationship with a need for a vitamin. Humans create vitamin D when their skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. It enables the body to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D bones grow misshapen or become thin and brittle. Vitamin D protects older people from osteoporosis. These biological needs are related to how strongly people are attracted to sunlight.
When people are sitting in a coffee shop waiting for their friend, they suddenly feel pleased to see their friend walking through the door. People feel relief as their fears reduce. The friend has contributed to their feelings of safety, but also to their social prospects. The thought that they have not been stood-up causes anxieties to reduce. They are pleased that the planned meeting is taking place. This regulates mood by lowering anxieties and bringing their sense of security closer to a comfortable level, which reduces tense vigilant dispositions and frees attention and energy. People experience the most basic emotion of pleasure without knowing there’s a biological reason for it.
People feel the physical pleasure of the tasty food and refreshing water sliding down their throat, but they also feel emotionally pleased with themselves, for as the food and drink goes down, it nourishes their bodies. Just as people feel emotionally pleased sitting in the sun on a warm day when their body temperature is just right. Just as sitting in the coffee shop feeling pleased a friend is there too. There are physical and emotional aspects to pleasure. Whether people are oblivious to it or not, there’s an underlying aim of maintaining balance through change that’s the basis of pleasurable activities.
Pleasure is used to describe positive feelings that stem from vastly different sensations, yet it’s always as an expression of a small amount of positive feeling. The more an event will contribute to people’s social lives, the greater the amount of positive feeling experienced, the less likely pleasure will be used to describe the experience. Gladness, joy and elation are expressions of greater positive feelings. They relate less to the physical here-and-now and more to social outcomes. They relate less to the body’s internal state.
Pleasure can be here one moment then gone the next, for it’s a fleeting sensation that can last seconds, yet it may continue for hours with constant stimulation of a short-lived sensation. When it ends, pleasure isn’t felt as a great loss, for it’s less consequential than joy and elation. Pleasure is a commonly available feeling that can be experienced with much greater frequency than any other positive emotion. As a body’s homeostatic need for items changes hourly, opportunities to fulfil potentially pleasurable needs are virtually constant. Hence, although it may be a temporary and mildly positive emotion, it’s possible to experience it abundantly. A lot of small things experienced frequently can have a very positive, bubbly effect on general mood.
As people can participate in pleasurable activities without fearing great loss of positive feeling when the activity ends, pleasure’s temporality can have an attractive quality. Delicious food served in small and varied amounts with complementary drinks is well known to create a pleasant setting. Groups of people can experience the same things as pleasurable. They can have mildly positive feelings, over the course of an evening, without risking much of an emotional slump afterwards. When subconscious anxieties of maintaining food and drink intake are eliminated, conscious attention stays focused on the discussion at hand. Thus a host can provide a positive yet stable social setting for people to mingle.
Although being in pleasurable company may lead to opportunities and encounters that can be greatly fulfilling, the pleasure itself does not lead to this satisfaction. If people think that continually doing pleasurable things will create a great sense of satisfaction or happiness, it’s a mistaken assumption. This is something to be considered for people who distract themselves from feeling the despair of a situation with pleasurable activities. Pleasure will not fill a hole created by despair. Just as it’s not a solution to regret, remorse, guilt or shame. Though it can introduce a well needed interruption to stress, pleasure does not address the anxieties of social emotions.
For a theoretical example, alcohol dramatically affects the body’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter process. GABA is associated with relaxation and the reduction of stress. People may find consuming large amounts of alcohol pleasurable because it acts as a homeostatic agent that biologically symbolises the achievement of solutions to psychological and biological stresses. It facilitates the same biological processes that would be experienced if they had found solutions to their stresses. When the alcohol wears off, the GABA process reorganises itself once again to the psychological stresses that have not been addressed. Alcohol allows people to dupe themselves, and to biologically forget their stresses. As it does not maintain balance through change, it’s a false homeostasis. Because it compromises body systems and reduces people’s ability to function, it reduces their ability to solve the stresses that caused them to drink; it’s added load. This is the reason people cannot drown their sorrows. Rather than a solution, excessive alcohol is a distraction from social stresses. Such excessively distracting guilty pleasures often have the unfortunate side-effect of adding stress in the long run.
Pleasurable sensations are the bubbliest of feelings. Pleasure goes on and off the boil, and it’s there one moment and gone the next without causing shock when it’s absent. The things that people like create pleasurable feelings, and those feelings often unknowingly have an underlying objective related to a balanced bodily state.
Latin. Placere = to be acceptable, be liked, be approved.
Ancient Greek. Plaxos = level surface, flat, ‘to become flat’.
1. The condition of consciousness or sensation induced by the enjoyment or anticipation of what is felt or viewed as good or desirable; enjoyment, delight, gratification. The opposite of pain.
2. In a strictly physical sense: the indulgence of the appetites; sensual gratification.
3. Psychology: denoting the theory that the drives to achieve pleasure and to avoid pain are basic motivating forces, or instincts, in human and animal life.
4. Man (or woman) of pleasure: one who is devoted to the pursuit of sensual pleasure; a licentious person.