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Archive for December 18th, 2007

Which road leads to a fuller, more satisfying life — the road through pleasure, engagement or meaning?

Philosophers have grappled with this question since Ancient Roman times, but recently researchers wanted to explore the question for a more practical reason — perhaps a more definitive answer could clinically help people who experience unhappiness.

The results of one study may have muddied the picture instead of clearing it up. Researchers concluded that all of these paths can lead to life satisfaction and no one single path necessarily holds greater weight than the others.

How can this be? How can hedonism hold equal promise compared to a life full of meaning or engagement? Perhaps we don’t want to believe it. Life with meaning or engagement is certainly a life worth living. Purpose drives us. It drives us to act positively, both towards ourselves and others. But what if just pursuing pleasure for pleasure sake (assuming the behavior’s ethical) can generate just as much satisfaction for some? Does that negate the other two?

No. It means life runs through many roads. The key is finding yours.

Source: Orientations to Happiness and Life Satisfaction: The Full Life Versus the Empty Life by Christopher Peterson, Nansook Park and Martin E.P. Seligman

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Pop a sugar cube in your mouth and what happens? You taste sweetness, right? Pretty simple.

Not so, according to researchers. Simple pleasures actually hide a complex dance between the brain, the nervous system and a host of chemical or electrical reactions — all of which might hold important keys to your overall satisfaction and happiness.

Take the desire for something pleasurable. Is that the same as the result itself? Say you want to water ski and imagine the spray on your face, the tug of the boat and the bright, blue sky above as you crisscross across the smooth, watery surface. Will the event match your expectations? Perhaps. Both may give you the same pleasure.

But “wanting” and “having” something may also have two different outcomes in the brain, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. In other words, you can gain pleasure from each independent of the other. For example, the researchers suggest that some drug addicts relapse because their changed brains make them vulnerable to wanting the drugs, even after the symptoms of withdrawal have long passed.

In practical terms, desire holds its own rewards. We can actually experience pleasure and thus some level of satisfaction by wanting something, regardless of whether or not it becomes reality.

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