Pleasure And Enjoyment (Aren’t They The Same?)
Pleasure and enjoyment – two words, often used interchangeably when describing an event or action.
At the end of the day, our goal is to find fulfilment in what we’re doing… however, only one of these two will help us reach where we want to be. The other is a sh0rt-lived temporary submission to our desires.
Before reading the book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi l assumed they were the same, but I can now see they’re two different beasts (and only one of these two you should associate yourself with, for good reason).
Csikszentmihalyi makes a key distinction between pleasure and enjoyment. We tend to talk about these two concepts interchangeably, but it’s useful to look at the differences in their nature and effects.
Let’s take a look at pleasure, enjoyment and what you need to know to enter the flow state, achieve your goals and find fulfilment.
What Is Pleasure
Csikszentmihalyi describes pleasurable experiences to be homeostatic, in other words a pleasurable experience does not provide us with growth.
Instead a pleasurable experience meets or exceeds our biological requirements…
When we’re talking about pleasurable experiences think sleeping in on the weekend, eating a carbohydrate laden meal or sitting on the couch with your favorite movie.
Pleasurable experiences aren’t all bad and shouldn’t be ruled out in there entirity, as Csikszentmihalyi says they’re an important component when it comes to our quality of life, but they do not help us grow in the manner that enjoyable experiences do.
What Is Enjoyment
Enjoyment, which you’ll now see is quite different to pleasure.
In the book Flow, Csikszentmihalyi describes enjoyment as “forward movement: a sense of novelty, of accomplishment”.
When you put in the work and stretch the boundaries of what you deemed possible, that’s true enjoyment.
Grinding out that extra rep on your 405lb squat, Writing a 2,000 word article on dieting that you’d be experiencing writer’s block on, beating your previous sales records, learning a new skill, engaging deep into conversation with an entrepreneur on your level or above… although in the moment you may not see these experiences as enjoyable we soon discover that the growth we encountered as a result of the task made it enjoyable.
As Csikszentmihalyi states in ‘Flow’, we may not equate enjoyable things with fun at the time, we will look back upon them with a feeling that we have accomplished something, and think, “that was really fun.” The hallmark feature of enjoyment is that we have changed as a result. We have overcome a barrier, learned something, met a target or refined our skills.
Fulfilment, True Happiness & Entering The State Of Flow
“Pleasure is an important component in the quality of life, but by itself does not bring happiness…[Pleasurable experiences] do not produce psychological growth….When people ponder further about what makes their lives rewarding, they tend to move beyond pleasant memories and begin to remember other events, other experiences that overlap with pleasurable ones but fall into a category that deserves a separate name: enjoyment…Enjoyment is characterized by this forward movement: by a sense of novelty, of accomplishment…After an enjoyable event we know that we have changed, that our self has grown: in some respect, we have become more complex as a result of it.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Happiness
The goal is to focus on enjoyment to achieve the ecstatic state of flow, in which time almost stands still. I speak from experience when I say I’m happiest when I’m immersed in a challenge, when every ounce of energy and focus is placed directly on the workout I’m doing, on the book I’m writing, on the article I’m proof-reading…
But how do we differentiate a pleasurable experience from an enjoyable experience? Here’s a check list to run your tasks by to determine which category they fit into (as you can now see they’re quite different!).
- The experience is challenging and requires skills but we have a chance of completing it.
- We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
- The task has clear goals.
- It provides immediate feedback on whether we are reaching those goals.
- We become absorbed in the activity and forget about the worries of everyday life.
- We have a sense of control over our actions.
- Concern for the self disappears (though the sense of self emerges stronger after the experience is over).
- Time disappears – hours can pass like minutes, yet minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.
In short, pleasure is temporary satisfaction, we experience happiness for a short period of time – be this while indulging in junk food, or having sex – but it is short lived. Enjoyment, on the other hand is a result of engaging in a challenging task, becoming immersed in the process and growing by completing or progressing on what you’re doing. You may not be happy in the exact moments you’re engaged (as you’re simply immersed) but the result and progression provides fulfilment.