The Paradox Between Power and Pleasure

When we experience power how does it feel and when we seek pleasure how is it different? The paradox between these two emotions is as intriguing as it is essential in understanding our ability to thrive in healthy and happy personal and professional environments.

My want to better understand these core principles began with the humbling task of first breaking down my own perceptions of these paradoxical qualities and becoming more open minded to the reality of their essence. By setting aside my own cognitive biases, I was able to question and evolve my attitudes towards how the perception of power can either strengthen or sabotage our desire for pleasure.

Power

Like many people I know, I’ve associated the desire for financial income with the relativity of a greater well being. Having an abundance of money opens up the possibilities of traveling the world, buying the most luxurious fabrics and tasting the world’s finest cuisines. However, study after study continues to point out that these are hollow and unreliable securities.

The reason for this is hedonic adaptation, which is our tendency to adapt to circumstances, whether they are good or bad. This helps protect us from staying depressed forever over negative situations; however, the same mental machinery keeps us from staying elated after positive events.

Research suggests it is actually a number of different social factors that contribute to our subjective well-being and life satisfaction. In one study, volunteering was associated with greater well being, and for people who volunteered at least once a week, the increase in their well-being was equivalent to the increase associated with moving from a $20,000-a-year salary to a $75,000-a-year-salary.

The good news is that building more “social” into our lives is very cost effective and easy to achieve. The bad news is that our societies pursuit for materialism comes at the cost of our social connections and time for socialization. I think the key is to find a career that harmonizes one’s unique talents and abilities with the potential to impact the welfare of others.

Pleasure

If you ask someone to think of two painful experiences, it is likely that one of two experiences might be related to the pain of a broken heart or loss of a loved one. Using brain imaging research, we can now see that the same area of the brain is triggered when experiencing the pain of a broke leg as when it experiences the pain of separation.

The neural overlap between social and physical pain ensures that we will spend our entire lives motived by social connection, never fully able to get past the pain of social rejection just as we never get past the pain of hunger.

People will go to great lengths to avoid physical and hunger pain, but the problem occurs when we use the same tenacity to avoid emotional pain. Our ego is quick to remind us of the suffering from previous humiliation and expertly manipulate future psychological and behavioral patterns.

Fear of rejection is sometimes masked with disconnection just as fear of inadequacy is sometimes cloaked by perfection. Brene Brown describes these dangerous symptoms in The Price of Invulnerability as she explains the severe consequences we face when we loose our capacity to be vulnerable.

Unfortunately, the consequence of numbing vulnerability is that you can’t selectively numb shame, anxiety or fear without subsequently numbing joy, love and belonging. And what is the point of life if not lived to our fullest ability to love and be loved?

Sources:
Social: Why Are Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman, Phd
The Prince of Invulnerability by Brene Brown

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