The Quality of Pleasure and your Hurt Threshold

August 15, 2011 Post Comment Uncategorised

In terms of the excesses or compulsions in our lives – those instances when we can’t say “No” to temptation – those instances when we are already into the next drink, the next mouthful, the next light-up, when we haven’t mentally closed the door on the previous one – there seems to be a common thread.

These are all things we like doing.

And with things we like doing, we become really vulnerable to NOT JUST doing or consuming them for what I’d call Route 1 pleasure (pleasure for pleasure’s sake), but also for Route 2 or secondary pleasure. This is reward for something good we’ve done, some achievement that carries elements of celebration. So this is “having a good time because” rather than just “having a good time”. Finally there’s Route 3 or tertiary pleasure. This is comfort, solace, redressing the imbalance of something unpleasant, something awful that’s happened to us, that makes us feel so down so that we have to add to our own depleted “feeling good” inner resources with something external – something that we know we LIKE, or something we know will grant us release from those “down” feelings.

The excesses and compulsions generally seem to be yielded to incrementally, and these increments are small, in themselves. There’s a huge difference between a holiday and a bar of chocolate or a bottle of wine – both in terms of pleasure and unit cost – and the incremental influence also relates to cost. But for those who can afford to take a holiday every month (say) then the quality of pleasure in those monthly holidays is very diluted – rather in the same way the second bottle of wine, or third bar of chocolate is diluted in quality of pleasure terms. The graph of quality of pleasure plotted against level of indulgence will be certain to take a nose dive!

Plotting the Graph reveals the Hurt Threshold

In this particular graph there is a built-in amount of even greater pleasure on the first repeat action, whereas the by the third instance the pleasure is less than the first time, and drops rapidly with each repeat thereafter. The quality of pleasure after the second time is falling away towards the “Hurt Threshold”

And what of the “Hurt Threshold”? It could be anywhere after #2 depending on the nature of the pleasure being indulged, and certainly once into negative the effects can be very toxic indeed.

As already said, though, with the smaller excesses and compulsions – they are small enough for us to accept the incremental yielding with the excuse “This’ll be the last,” or “I’ll just have the one,” or “One more won’t hurt.” The thing is, at this stage we never take stock of the situation – the excuses and our justifications are almost fused together. It’s as if we are stupefied in a kind of trance and the “devil” on our shoulder is running the whole show. The somewhat “distant” internal dialogue might develop along these lines, “The STOCKTAKE isn’t for a while yet, and I’m in control – aren’t I?” – which begs the question: What part of us specifically might the “I” be talking to here?

When the STOCKTAKE comes – as it inevitably does – there is always that same part of us that’s incredulous as to how all these compulsions and excesses have added up over a period of time.

“I never knew it would be this bad!”
“Well Sir/Madam – we’ve done a stock count of all the ‘just the ones’ or ‘one more won’t hurts’ and you’re way over your hurt threshold. And that’s why it hurts, funnily enough!”

For Route 3 tertiary pleasure, the above graph hardly exists – because there is barely any true pleasure involved in our action. It is all really for anaesthetic purposes – for comfort – for masking a whole raft of other “hurt”. And in terms of all that tertiary pleasure, what happens is we trade the hurt of all the ‘feel-bad’ times, for a new hurt related to excesses and compulsions. And has all that stress and ‘feel-bad’ stuff gone away? Is life really better for having this new kind of hurt?

Society’s perception of the dangers to personal control are somewhat warped. For instance, with tobacco use the dangers are clear and proven – so we assume people have a low level of self-responsibility and we take away people’s “rights in the public domain” by banning smoking. We also plaster the product packaging with impact phrases like “Smoking Kills”. However, with alcohol the same self-responsibility is deemed to be much higher, and so those same “public rights” are permitted. People are invited to be “Drink Aware” while, with the exception of driving, people are deemed to be responsible. Finally with food excesses society leaves people to their own devices. Eating food doesn’t pollute the air or turn people dangerous or unpredictable – so we have no right, rhyme or reason to restrict what they do.

Re-calibrating our Quality of Pleasure

Being out of touch with our Quality of Pleasure in terms of food and drink for instance, impacts hugely upon our lives. If we ignore the warnings, as well as our lack of self care, then we move through a variety of stages where the plummeting nature of the graph represents a plummet in other parts of our lives. In terms of our wider relationship with food and drink, fitness and health tend to be the first to deteriorate. Often with this comes issues with self-esteem, confidence, and an increasing dysfunctionality of performance in other personal, social and work-related areas.
Interestingly, on all products designed to assist people with quitting smoking there is the caveat “requires will power”. There is no mention of will power in terms of alcohol or food – although we all know that the ability to say “NO” to any of these things is “Ours and Ours Alone.”


If we can really get in touch with what pleasure means for us as individuals, then we can start to re-evaluate and calibrate our Quality of Pleasure. The phrase “Moderation in all Things” is a very good mantra for everyone, and it can be linked to every point I have already made here. The thing is, what about our perception of that word “Moderation”.

Ask yourself what it means for you when you hear that word “moderation”.

For most of us I think the answer would probably come out on the side of phrases such as “enjoy yourself less”, “be boringly prudent”, “don’t let your hair down”, “spoil the party”, and so on. There is this understanding that moderation means LESS pleasure, therefore we should make pleasure only a thing of quantity. Moderation is boring. Moderation is the very antithesis of pleasure!

My point, however, invites us all to have the same amount of pleasure – but to enjoy it in terms of QUALITY not quantity. And then start to find new ways of enjoying pleasure, so that the quantity grows that way – rather than over-indulging in a few pleasures.
Savour the quality of the things we would label as pleasures. Become familiar with what pleasure really means for us. Evaluate the things or actions that give us pleasure, and look at whether they are indulged as primary, secondary or tertiary pleasures – or indeed a combination of all three. Decide what might be a better way of dealing with the impact of tertiary pleasure – because tertiary pleasure merely devalues the pleasure you get from that self same thing when you are supposed to be enjoying it in secondary or primary mode.
Next time you are doing something you enjoy ask yourself these questions, and maybe stop yourself for just long enough to hear the real answers.

We all have a relationship with our pleasure. We also all have a tendency to prostitute that relationship by devaluing its true quality for toxic reasons.