The Pleasure Trap and How to Escape It
How our unique place in the history of consumerism and technology has blurred an important distinction, and how we can see it more clearly.
We are simultaneously in a great time to be alive, and an extremely dangerous one. On one hand, we have at our fingertips all kinds of stimuli — from information and entertainment, to conversation and consumption. Theoretically, we can have a desire for something, find it, pay for it, and have it arrive to us all in the same day — without leaving our homes, and using a phone that fits in our pocket. It’s a veritable buffet of goods and services that exist in order to cater to our every whim.
So not only has the sheer quantity of available pleasures increased dramatically, but also (and more importantly) the time between when we form a desire to when we can fulfill it has dramatically decreased. In this way, we live in a time truly unlike any other in history. And we seem to be taking it all in stride.
Or are we?
The Pleasure Trap
While there is an aspect of this that sounds great, you can probably see the potential drawbacks. There is a phenomenon known in psychology as hedonic adaptation, which basically says that humans have an uncanny ability to adapt to the stimulus they receive, and quickly return to a stable level of baseline happiness.
What this means is that for each of your desires that gets fulfilled, you very quickly become used to it, and your level of happiness goes back to what it was before. It’s a lot like tolerance to a drug: the more you get, the more you get used to having more, and the more you desire.
So if you combine our mind’s uncanny ability to adapt to pleasure, with an ever-increasing supply of more easily-obtained pleasures — we’re setting ourselves up for a kind of pleasure-addicted life that may end pretty hollow.
I call it the pleasure trap: we’re encouraged by businesses and technology to act more quickly on more of our desires — which they exist in order to fulfill. As a result, we get accustomed to having more and more desires, and having them fulfilled more quickly. This means that we form more desires, and…