“Joy and sorrow are the distinguishing mark of things beneficial and harmful.”
Hedonism: Greek hēdonē pleasure; akin to Greek hēdys sweet
It is commonly assumed that hedonism is identical to carnality, a marked sexual focus for the attainment of pleasure. While it can involve sexuality, in its simplest form, hedonism is simply the principled focus on attaining pleasure.
What is pleasure?
Our collective definition, according to Webster, is that pleasure is a source of delight, joy or gratification. The great thing about pleasure is that as we grow, our conditions for delight and gratification also mature. It’s as though we are unavoidably hard-wired connoisseurs of joy.
As a young boy, I enjoyed playing with superhero figurines. It brought me deep satisfaction and excited my imagination. As my adolescence progressed, I became increasingly curious and desired to engage my imagination in a peer setting. I soon became interested in video games, jumping around playgrounds, and taking apart broken computers.
As a teenager, I was no longer satisfied with make-believe and fantasy. I needed to ground my experience in physicality through kickboxing, running, romantic relationships and experimentation. Unsurprisingly, my teenage years contributed to my greatest understanding of both “disciplined hedonism” and “impulsive hedonism.”
Upon reaching some semblance of adulthood, I developed a renewed interest in metaphysics, and community development. I also explored and developed a healthier form of sexuality and affection, free of a great deal of the peer-conditioning I received during my late teen years.
As I integrated my experiences, each imbalanced permission slip for joy and contentment lost its potency. At the same time, I also discovered the actions and avenues in my life that brought about a subtler, more resounding sense of contentment. A great many of these resounding forms of contentment were in direct conflict with what many of my hometown peers would consider normal or “cool.”
Yet, the more I let go of the imposed ethical lessons of the media, the church, and even my own parents, the greater my satisfaction in life. As I placed my own internal guidance over the chatter of external influences, the more I experienced a tangible, nourishing daily peace.
This article isn’t just about how great it is to let go of the social norm, so as to experience the pleasure of wild abandon. It’s about disciplined hedonism. Well, to be honest, it’s about both; one finds true discipline only after experiencing the negative effects of excess. In other words, some of us have to burn our hand in the fire in order to understand the power of the fire.
A certain percentage of readers may consider this a very dangerous “left-hand” approach to life, and in a sense, it is. The search for our highest joy based on internal guidance can be risky, but I believe it is far more dangerous to follow an external set of beliefs at the cost of our own voice.
Part of the discipline of hedonism involves the courage to voice your own inner guidance. It can be as simple and centered as a strong “no,” or as terrifying as expressing the depths of your sadness and anger. This path is not about wine, sex and vomitoriums. It is about the courage to live what you know is right. The intuitive road may not always be clear and even, but in the distance, the light of wisdom guides us on.
The hedonistic path is also thick with moralistic stumbling blocks. In the case of what is “right” and what is “wrong,” there are no clear, definitive answers. Like everything else in our lives, outside events are dependent on the emotional charge we assign them. It is our subtle feeling level that decides whether or not an event is in line with our inner voice.
French philosopher Michel Onfray said it best, “Hedonism is an introspective attitude to life based on taking pleasure yourself and pleasuring others, without [consciously] harming yourself or anyone else.”(1) This outlook seeks to utilize the full capacity of mind, body and heart in order to attain the highest experiences of sustainable ecstasy.
In opposition to conventional ascetic ideals, hedonism asks us to discover our own highest ideals and pleasures, and unify them for the sake of our own well-being and personal growth. Attaining this balance, our own pleasure as well as that of the group becomes the priority of our lives.
It requires each one of us to approach our desires from multiple angles. As we express our pleasures with those around us, we are required to consistently reevaluate ourselves and our models for understanding: political, erotic, ethical, the list goes on… Our collective desire for joy provides a powerful fuel for innovation and progress.
When compared to the power of shame or imposed moralism, the desire for bliss provides a clean and universally desired fuel for societal achievement. The individual conscious approach to pleasure holds the capacity to transform society, free of the stress and strain of our conventional systems of stoicism and aestheticism. Although, if those conventional systems bring you that desired pleasure, more power to you.
Opponents of this school of thought claim that to follow hedonism is to resort to relying on our emotional whims for satisfaction. Ayn Rand, modern philosopher and ethical egoist, argues that ethics are put in place to guide us to happiness.(2)
This is in direct contrast to Michel Onfray’s ethical hedonism, in which an individual’s values are guided by conscious pleasure rather than rules written in stone. I find the differing schools of thought somewhat humorous, as Ayn Rand is likely following her own sense of self-satisfaction. In this case, ethical egoism.
In the end, we all follow what we believe will bring us closer to pleasure and further away from pain. In some cases, these actions come from a place of suppressing our guilt or shame, represented in our participation of activities that may not represent our highest calling.
As long as we hold onto self-destructive belief patterns, actions that no longer serve us can be perpetuated in the name of avoiding the greater pain of confronting a painful memory or belief. On the other end of the spectrum, an individual may consciously take part in an activity that outwardly seems needlessly painful or “dark.” In reality, this unpleasant experience may free an individual from a parasitic belief pattern.
Sometimes the only way past it, is through it. This is where a conscious understanding of disciplined hedonism shines. Through experience, we learn that through embracing our whole being, highs and lows, we are capable of greater enjoyment and fulfillment. A symbolic closet-cleaning allows us to witness our experience of pleasure with newly liberated eyes.
The avoidance of pleasure due to shame or a lack of worthiness is deeply engrained in western culture. I experience it on a daily basis. A great deal of these shaming beliefs operate quietly, just below the surface, passed down silently from generation to generation.
The only real medicine for this sickness is the willingness to look at our beliefs surrounding the idea of pleasure, fulfillment, total ecstasy. As mentioned previously, we are all pleasure-seeking beings. The question is whether you will do it with conscious intent and discipline, or reactionary unconscious-belief? For those willing to take the conscious plunge, enjoy the ride.
“Follow your desire as long as you shall live. Fulfill your needs upon earth after the command of your heart. Behold, it is not given to man to take his property with him…”
~ Egyptian Poem; 2120 B.C.E.
2. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, “The Objectivist Ethics”; 1964.
Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Sascha Kyssa is fixated on conscious internal change. Obsessed with new experiences, Sascha thrives in a constantly changing environment. You can currently find him working on his pet project, “www.ChronicleandTale.com.
Editor: Mel Squarey