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Top Pleasures

Might you want to do some of these?

Kyrill Poole, CC 2.0
Source: Kyrill Poole, CC 2.0

In our overpacked days, it may be hard to find time to even think about what gives us pleasure.

Here are descriptions of the 12 pleasures that appeared most often in the 20+ lists of favorite pleasures I reviewed. After that, I offer 14 of my own.

Perhaps these will remind you of one or more pleasures you should more often give yourself.

Consensus favorite pleasures

Infatuation. It's well acknowledged that infatuation is a powerful pleasure: a combination of hormonal influences such as dopamine and oxytocin plus the power of hope that this will yield true love.

Sex. Psychologist Harry Harlow found that even monkeys crave and benefit from touch. And for most people, sexual touch feels especially good. And then there's the orgasm, which many feel is the most pleasurable sensation of all.

Watching a big game. We all need things to believe in. Sports teams allow that and do so without huge consequence. If our team loses, there's always another game.

Fun times with a good friend. We're thrust into our family of origin at random but we choose our friends. So it's perhaps not surprising that many lists of favorite pleasures include having enjoyable times with a good friend.

Travel. Beyond appearing on favorite-pleasure lists, anecdotally, so many people rhapsodize about travel. For them, its benefits far outweigh the liabilities: cost, getting lost, ripped off, unexpected weather, the stress of catching up when you return home, etc.

Being productive. For many people, core to feeling worthwhile is being productive, especially if they're doing what they do well. Are you as productive as you want to be? If not, what could you do differently to make that possible?

Watching a movie. Film companies spend tens of millions of dollars creating an immersive experience that we can watch in a movie theatre for the price of a pizza or in the comfort of our home sofa for the price of a latte. We can choose any of thousands of movies, each that expose us to life's happiest, saddest, and most thought-provoking experiences worldwide, with no more effort than a click on Netflix. Sometimes, our most rewarding movie experiences are to re-watch favorite films. Is there one you should watch again?

Hugging a child. For many people, the sensory and spiritual experience of hugging a child is nonpareil--Your giving nurturance to the next generation can feel profound.

A lovely walk, hike, or drive. Such simple escapes can be particularly restorative. Rather than drive, almost every day, Albert Einstein walked the 20 minutes to and from his office. Is there a walk, hike, or drive you should take on a regular basis?

A lovely meal. George Bernard Shaw wrote, "There is no sincerer love than the love of food." Indeed, a well-prepared, leisurely meal at home or at a lovely restaurant is, for almost everyone, an enjoyable experience. Is there a restaurant you should visit with someone you care about? A meal you should prepare for that special someone?

A spa visit or massage. A spa visit is a luxury that many people enjoy. After all, it includes caring touch, stress reduction, and treatments to enhance one's appearance, all in a peaceful, low-stress environment. Many people who don't want to spend so much find a massage a spa visit's most pleasurable part. Should you make an appointment?

Reading a book. Millions of books are available free or at modest cost in libraries or downloadable instantly from Amazon That enables one to read a great story, fictional or real, or to get invaluable how-to information 24/7. Because of books' accessibility many people take them for granted but the book is, indeed, one of life's great treasures.

My favorite pleasures

The first sip of a cup of coffee in the morning along with a warm, flaky, croissant. Indeed the first taste of most things often feel the best. Think of your favorite food or drink. Isn't the first taste the best? Do you savor it enough or too eagerly push on to the rest of it?

The first moment in a hot shower on a cold morning. That's another example of the first moment of a favorite activity being special. What's one of yours? Do you stop to note the pleasure of its first moment?

Reading and answering a kind email. In our ever more pressured lives, too few people take time to write something kind, especially if non-essential. Have you ever received such an email? How did it feel? Might you want to send one, even a non-essential one, even a handwritten letter?

A client having made progress. Most of us love to see the fruits of our labor. My main work is trying to help my clients improve their career and life. Seeing them be more successful gives me great pleasure. Do you take a moment to savor the progress you've made at work?

Watching a touching movie like Brooklyn on the sofa next to my wife. Per the above paean to movies, watching a film, especially a heartwarming one, is one of life's greater pleasures. It's enhanced by sharing that with a loved one in in the cocoon of home. Is there a movie you'd love to watch with a special someone?

Coaching my wife in preparing for an audition or role, then watching the play, and writing the review. Here's my latest. Many people in the helping professions feel they grow as as much from helping others as does the client or student. Not surprisingly, the pleasure we get is even greater with a loved one. While some people shouldn't coach family members, knowing them so well and being extra-motivated to help, may make you of greater benefit. Coaching family members isn't for everyone but in your case is it worth considering, whether it's coaching your child in baseball, your spouse in public speaking, or your elderly parent in how to use a smartphone?

Playing gin rummy with my wife, win or lose, to the accompaniment of soft music. Nothing could be more mundane but when I tell my friends and clients that Barbara and I enjoy that, they admire that we enjoy such simple pleasures. Should you engage more in such things?

My wife and I congratulating each other after throwing a successful dinner party. Key is to have a fun, thought-provoking, or relationship-building activity between courses. So we might, for fun, have everyone see if they can tell--in a blind test--the difference between cheap wine and expensive wine. We might go around the table asking people to opine on an issue like, "How would America be different under a Bernie Sanders than a Donald Trump?" A relationship-building question might be, "Give an example of an argument that you had with your significant other that resolved well. What enabled it to?"

Petting my dog, Einstein. This is another example of the power of touch, and this adds the benefit of unconditional love. In human relationships, that's less common than we may want to believe.

Taking a hike with Einstein as a reward for my having done a few hours of good work. Few multitaskings can be as rewarding: I get my exercise. Einstein gets his. He gets to relieve himself. I get to appreciate nature and when I tire of that, I get private, undistracted time to ponder a problem or my next Psychology Today post. Can you think of a multitasking that would give you lots of pleasure?

Listening to a great piece of music. It's said that music tames the savage beast and uplifts the soul. It certainly does for me. My current faves: Grieg Piano Concerto, Autumn Leaves sung by Sinatra, and Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel (the most calming piece of music I've ever heard) Is there a piece of music, of any genre, that you should listen more to?

Planting seeds and watching them grow. The word "awesome' is cheaply tossed around. It should be reserved for activities like watching the miracle of growth. Had you thought about planting a seed, if even just that childhood favorite: growing a bean in a cup of water?

Writing my Psychology Today articles. Everyone wants to make a difference. My life's meaning is enhanced by knowing that many people will read my hopefully helpful advice. Is there a way you could make a difference to a large number of people, either in paid or volunteer work?

Getting into bed after a productive day and reading gardening catalogs to put me to sleep. When I feel I've done a good day's work, I feel I deserve the right to an utterly frivolous activity and to a peaceful night's sleep. I don't let myself think about work or any other problems. I've earned the right to veg. If you don't already, might you want to give yourself that bedtime gift?

The takeaway

So is there a pleasure or two you'd like to do more of? Want to create your own master list?

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