What I’m Thinking Now: The Importance of Pleasure

I’m seeing a new therapist, and we’ve been talking a lot about pleasure. It makes me feel almost embarrassed to say that. Pleasure is a bad word in our society. It sounds like a stripper name or a sex shop, both of which put sex (and pleasure) into the territory of the tawdry and forbidden. There’s something taboo-ish in even admitting to feeling pleasure, much less seeking it out. 

But I live with a toddler, and am constantly surrounded by children. Pleasure can be a very pure thing. In fact, when my therapist asked me to name things that gave me pleasure, they were so small, simple. The color of the light through my glass of cold-brewed green tea. Ripe summer peaches. Head rubs. Stacking or sorting things with my hands. My therapist pointed out that many of my pleasures were tactile, which I hadn’t realized; this has brought a new dimension to certain tasks of housework. Pleasure can be so accessible and so innocent. Children know this without being taught: set them loose anywhere they feel safe, and they’ll find a source of delight. 

A bowl of peaches, yogurt, and granola, with a spoon, a blue and white napkin, and glasses of water and green tea alongside.

I felt a lot of power in listing so many pleasures. There is so much possibility for pleasure! It’s all around us and it’s waiting for our discovery! Actually, I used to know this quite well. But something happens when I start to take on responsibility. In rereading what I’ve written about children and pleasure, I realize it’s about safety. Children are full of pleasure when they feel safe; this must be true of adults too. We make the world safe for our children (or try to), but who makes it safe for us? Nobody but ourselves, and we know that all too well. Constant vigilance. There’s no time for pleasure when we’re always scanning the horizon. 

We become so grim, thinking of all the things that could go wrong. It’s needful from a practical standpoint, but it’s also a disservice to each other, we creatures so wired for pleasure. Wouldn’t it be a joy to be cared for by someone who takes deep pleasure in life — and in caring for you? Isn’t generosity just the combination of responsibility and pleasure? (Giving/caring without responsibility is indulgence; giving/caring without pleasure burdens the receiver.) When my therapist started asking me about pleasure, as if it were an important topic and not a frivolous one, I realized it’s true and I’ve missed it. Pleasure makes generosity possible. I’m going to think on that some more. 

PS. Yes, of course I am reading Pleasure Activism and of course it is amazing! It’s also a lot about the more villainized aspects of pleasure, like sex and drugs (yes, she writes about drugs; no, I don’t do them), but it’s also very clear about what pleasure can do for activism and making the world better. If that sounds terrible to you, I can’t guarantee you’ll get anything out of it, but if it sounds intriguing, do please read.