The Pleasure Achievement Principle - How to Find the Balance Between Work and Fun in Everyday Life

By Chris Skellett - clinical psychologist with over 30 years experience.

Unlocking the Pleasure Achievement Principle

The search for a happy, fulfilling life is a universal objective. And the search involves long sequences of lifestyle decisions, made from moment to moment and from year to year.

We tend to base these decisions on one of two fundamental Happiness themes….

  1. The achievement of Satisfaction
  2. The experience of Pleasure.

They sound so similar and the words are often used interchangeably, but a closer analysis shows them to be fundamentally different.

The secret to living life well is to recognize our personal lifestyle tendencies towards one theme or the other, and then to strike a more fulfilling balance between the two.

Essentially, we need to ask ourselves whether we generally seek happiness through sensory pleasure, or do we strive to find happiness through achieving meaningful personal goals? In order to develop our awareness further, let’s look a little more closely at these two ideas:

Are You More of a "Pleasure Seeker?"

Pleasure is based on short term gratification. It’s fun, it’s indulgent, and it’s the basis of enjoyment. With pleasure, we live in the moment.

We feel alive, and it’s a sensual delight. Our base instincts are to seek pleasure, and for many, pleasure is the ultimate goal of a life lived well!! We feel happy and we bask in the experience.

Or Do You Strive for Achievement and Satisfaction?

Satisfaction, however, is different. It is predicated on the achievement of personally meaningful goals. We set goals, we achieve them, and we feel satisfied.

We glow in the happy knowledge that we have made a difference.

Satisfaction is achieved by overriding the short term discomfort of an action in pursuit of a chosen goal. Achieving satisfaction is the basis of all self control programmes.

Saying ‘No’ is a celebration of progress towards a positive goal, at the expense of a pleasurable indulgence. For example, fitness and health are the inevitable result of making consistent decisions based on the achievement of specified goals.

When we feel depressed, we often confuse pleasure and satisfaction.

We may eat chocolate, lie in bed, and indulge ourselves. We try to cheer ourselves up by ‘treating ourselves’ with pleasurable activities. We seek happiness. But these actions serve only to give us a short blip of relief before we sink back, feeling even worse about ourselves.

For long term lasting change, we need instead to set goals for ourselves, to establish a sense of purpose, and to aim for a sense of satisfaction, through the achievement of those goals.

But try telling that to students, who face the constant dilemma of study versus life’s endless party!! Or teenagers, whose life is based on the dogged pursuit of indulgent pleasure (sex, drugs and rock and roll!).

Invariably, their decisions as to how to spend time are based on seeking pleasure rather than achievement. Yet excessive indulgence in pleasure (life’s ‘endless party’) inevitably leaves us empty and flat.

There’s no momentum, no drive, and no sense of purpose. In the end, to feel motivated, we are required to set a valued and meaningful goal, and then work towards it.

Conversely, corporate business types tend to strive endlessly for their goals. The financial bottom line, the monthly targets and the organizations goals are their key drivers.

They focus on outcomes, achievements, and tangible outputs. Their focus is on ends rather than means. But “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Excessive achievement at the expense of pleasure leads to burnout, stress, obsessive drive and the pursuit of unrelentingly high standards.

There is no contentment, no happiness, no humour.

It’s interesting to review specific issues in life through the Pleasure/Achievement lens…for example punctuality and timekeeping.

For some of us, running late is clearly the result of continuing with a pleasurable activity in preference to ‘achieving closure’ and making a timely arrival at the next appointment…a punt for pleasure over achievement.

For others, their lateness is explained purely in terms of a distracted focus on too many other things that needed to be completed or closed down before moving on. It was their excessive focus on achievement that tripped them up. They’d become tangled in a web of tasks that prevented them from moving on.

Making the Most of Your Free Time with the Pleasure Achievement Principle

Another application of the Pleasure Achievement principle might concern the way that we spend our discretionary time. A Saturday morning can either be spent fixing things up and ticking jobs off a list, or else kicking back and cruising, doing whatever takes your fancy.

Do we play golf to relax, or to play golf to improve our handicap? Are we competitive and driven with sport, or are we simply happy to give it go? Often we hear people say, “I don’t like going to the gym” but no-one goes to the gym for fun…they go to achieve. They go to achieve fitness and muscle tone. Going to the gym is usually satisfying, but it is not primarily a pleasurable activity!

In summary, we can all benefit from reflecting on this balance in our lives, and to ensure that the objective achievement of goals is balanced by the subjective pleasure of experiencing the moment. Satisfaction and pleasure.... two very similar concepts, complementary to one another, but never, ever, to be confused!

Exisle_logo_RevisedChris Skellett, a clinical psychologist with over 30 years experience, is the author of When Happiness Is Not Enough - Balancing Pleasure and Achievement in Your Life - available for instant download as an eBook through Exisle Empowerment.