Brain Food #605

Connecting the short-term to the long-term

Yesterday’s Brain Food covered how pain can lead to pleasure. Today offers a look at when, and how, pleasure should be pursued.


Thoughts of the day

Epicureanism, the opponent to Stoicism, is often associated with a hedonic quest for pleasure and the constant avoidance of pain, but that is not necessarily true. Where Stoicism denotes that man can be self-sufficient and unaffected by external events, Epicurus was a materialist, but in a grander sense: he believed that this life, made of its atoms, is all that exists. If this is all there is, it should at least be enjoyed.

What Epicureanism preaches, however, is not incessant hedonism, but to seek pleasure where it is meaningful. Often this did not involve sensual experiences, but pleasures of the mind, combined with the avoidance of unnecessary pain.

And a moderate pursuit of pleasure should not necessarily be perceived as an act of selfishness or self-indulgence. The trick lies in learning to identify and control our desires, and only choosing to quench the ones that are worth our while.

A mental model to do this could be to consider what experiences would constitute positive memories, a bank of which can make one’s life, in retrospect, one that was worth living. For Epicurus, these are the memories that we create with those that matter to us. A hearty meal can be a pleasant experience; a hearty meal shared with friends can be a wonderful, long-term memory.

And in balancing the short-term opportunities for pleasure with the importance of long-term rewards, Bill Watterson offers a playful answer:

“In the short term, it would make me happy to go play outside. In the long term, it would make me happier to do well at school and become successful. But in the VERY long term, I know which will make better memories.”

Peter Paul Rubens' The Feast of Acheloüs, which is used on the pop-up's website
The Feast of Acheloüs by Peter Paul Rubens. Decadent scenes are often depicted in paintings, yet the true pleasure may lie in the fact that these moments of celebration are never experienced alone, but shared with others.