On Pleasure

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

What does wisdom look like to you? To me, it's presence. Grace. Gratitude. And increasingly: An aptitude for enjoying life's small pleasures. A heightened ability for finding joy in the quietest of moments, rather than the huge career successes and major life milestones.

It takes a certain amount of strongheadedness to feel unapologetically good in today's world. Delight is interpreted as a denial of the political and social status quo. Success narratives are often framed as the necessary sacrifice of personal ease and enjoyment in the pursuit of higher goals. We are taught that pleasure is largely the stuff of small-minded self-indulgence; that if we spend too much time lingering over a cup or coffee or quite literally smelling the roses, then we will look up one day and realise we didn't get anything of true significance done with our lives.

We are confused as to what pleasure - not to mention its close relation and that other great cultural sorespot, leisure - might even really mean. Part of this confusion is surely related to our unprecedented reliance on the dopamine-driven feedback loops that technology now provides: The cheap thrill of a flurry of an Instagram likes; the false sense of accomplishment that comes with hitting inbox zero. Our lives are undoubtedly more convenient than they were before the digital revolution, but seemingly not much more enjoyable for it. Much of our daily sense of gratification and connection is accessed through the complicated channels of addiction, after all. As we flail around in this strange and confusing space, a growing vanguard of thinkers ask us to reexamine how pleasure and leisure might help us navigate a way out. From adrienne maree brown's manifesto for Pleasure Activism to Jenny Odell's guide on 'How To Do Nothing', these manuals help us to reflect on our obsession with productivity and efficiency (reflected in the sex recession, the obsession with 'clean eating', and the rise of workism), and to consider how we might rehabilitate our capacity for uncomplicated, non-monetised joys.

In 1930, Bertrand Russell wrote:

"To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilisation, and at present very few people have reached this level."

In his praise of idleness, Russell was making a case for the vital space for personal development, self-education, and contemplative thought that leisure can provide. As August approaches, it feels like time to make a little bit more room for all the above – in which spirit, the newsletter is OOO till September. Until then, I hope you'll take some time to catch up on the past six months of posts (linked below) and to make more room for your own pleasures, big and small.