Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Two Great Motivators - Pleasure and Pain

Perhaps you're familiar with this philosophy and psychological concept. If you've studied any Freud or, more recently, Tony Robbins, you'll have been introduced to this concept. Certainly other psychologists, motivational speakers and philosophers of the 20th Century used these two concepts as the base for basic human motivation. The reality is that this isn't a new discovery by modern psychologists or philosophers. In fact, Aristotle spoke of it in his book, Rhetoric, some time around 400 BC. And, if you want to go back to the Book of Genesis in the Bible generally accepted that the creation of all things by God began at 4000 BC, you'll see the pleasure-pain (also construed as reward-punishment) concept repeated in numerous scenarios.

If you are a follower of any number of motivational speakers and organizations that use motivation as a basis for advancing and becoming successful in any number of endeavors (music, art, athletics, business including multi-level and network marketing, other career paths, education and so on), you have probably been led to believe there are a slew of motivators. Let me name just a few of these so-called motivators: money, happiness, success, freedom, awards, promotions, homes, cars, expensive bling and toys and the list goes on. Some of the negative motivations or demotivating ideas include: failure, loss, divorce, being fired, being passed over for promotion, lack of money, lack of the home you believe you should have, the same with vehicles and other stuff.

Here is the reality. Everything I just listed and anything else you want to add to these lists ALL revert directly back to the two Great Motivators, gaining pleasure and avoiding pain. Success equates with reward and gaining pleasure. Gaining all the money you want (unfortunately, that never seems to be enough for the majority of people) reverts back to what the money can be used for to gain pleasure. There is no intrinsic pleasure in money itself. It's only what money can do for someone that matters. This applies to every other superficial motivator. The negative motivators are the things that cause pain (emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual and economic). The negative motivators are what motivate us to do things we may not like to do, maybe even despise those things, but if they will prevent failure, loss of family, bankruptcy and so on, one will do whatever it takes.

It is generally accepted by most legitimate psychologists and behavioral scientists that the stronger of the two Great Motivators is the avoidance of pain. Take only one simple example, working hard at a job or jobs that one dislikes, despises or hates for 40, 50 and even 60 years. Why would a person work all that time at something they hate? To avoid the pain of not providing for their family, putting food on the table, putting a roof over their head (regardless of how conservative that shelter may be) and failing in life as measured by the standards established by society. This society goes by many names including the Jones's (as in "keeping up with the Jones's") and "They" (as in what will "They" or "everyone else" think of me or, as I term them, "The Committee of They").

To Gain Pleasure

Once again, I'm not preaching Judeo-Christian doctrine or ethics, but simply illustrating the basic principles that were pretty plainly laid out by these early books. You can go to any number of other ancient philosophies and find the same thing. But, why did God create the Garden of Eden and put Adam and Eve there when he "created" them? Because this life we have was meant to enjoy pleasure. Adam and Eve were given everything they needed to be free and happy and enjoy an abundant life. The miracle that is this planet has always had the capability of providing people and the animals on the planet with a fulfilling and abundant life. But, when that "snake in the grass," Satan, tempted humans to want more than the abundance, freedom and happiness they were endowed with, everything changed.

Instead of relating this to religion, simply look at it from this perspective. Humans are greedy and easily corruptible. I dare say there has been no human who has walked on this Earth (other than, supposedly, Jesus, The Son of God - relating back to religious convictions, again) who has not expressed and displayed greed and can be easily corrupted (tempted). Depending on our origins in geopolitical terms, societal and familial standards and ethics, some are more greedy and corruptible than others. Read this carefully, please. People who are born into poverty, slums and a low class of living are not anymore corruptible or greedy than those born into great wealth and an opulent lifestyle. I would even go as far as to say that those who have more are far greedier and more corrupt than those on the lower end of the scale.

Those in the Middle Class may be the worst of all. They consider themselves above the lower class people and have no problem stepping on them and exploiting them in their efforts to realize the pleasure of living like the wealthy, opulent class. Of course, I'm making broad generalizations with this description. However, most of us don't have a conscious clue as to what is actually motivating us - other than more is better and will make us happier. Unfortunately, that's not true. More can make most people more comfortable, but not necessarily happier. And worse, yet, at what price?

Gaining pleasure is certainly what life is all about in my estimation. But, it's how you define pleasure that really makes the difference. Going back to Biblical references, virtually all religions, in some manner, describe a heavenly afterlife of some kind. It might be called Heaven or Paradise. In Asian religious philosophies this relates to a state of Nirvana. One reaches Nirvana when the spirit is free from the material, lust and avarice of the greedy, corrupt being. However, achieving these idealistic states is only possible with work, learning, change and practice. I also believe that Nirvana doesn't have to follow some Eastern philosophy, but that we can each define our own Nirvana and strive to reach that state.

We've often heard and likely said ourselves, "the best things in life are free." And this goes back to the Garden of Eden. Essentially, Adam and Eve had it all. They could want for nothing in the Garden. But, God put one temptation there and instructed them not to go down that path or they would pay a severe penalty. We know the rest of the story. It only took one serpent (Satan, Evil, The Dark Side of the Force, whatever you want to call it) to lure them down the path. Eve was the first to partake, but Adam went along with it. Personally, I don't think it matters if it were Adam or Eve, human nature is what it is and the results would have been the same either way. They sought more pleasure by following the snake's lead and they suffered much pain as a result.

My personal belief is that we deserve all the pleasure we can derive from this limited life on the planet. The very concept of working for 40 or more years doing things someone hates or even dislikes is abhorrent to me. I look at my own life and, now, realize how much of my time I spent working at avoiding pain and putting off pleasure. Don't get me wrong; I've experienced much pleasure in my lifetime. I am not bitter or angry about anything. I just realized that with some adjustments in my personal conditioning and orientation, I could have spent a lot more or maybe even most of my lifetime realizing pleasure. However, our parental, religious, educational, occupational and moral education and conditioning is really about avoiding the pain factor.

Avoiding Pain

Do not misconstrue my meaning. I'm not saying that we should not work or have purpose in our lives. I'm not suggesting that we be irresponsible regarding choices and obligations we assume. I'm also not passing judgment on anything that anyone has or wants. I'm simply saying that gaining the greatest pleasure in life may have nothing to do with the amount of money we accumulate, the size of the house or houses we own or occupy, how new or expensive our vehicles are, how much stuff and bling we have in the form of toys, jewelry, furnishings, designer clothes, RVs, yachts, private aircraft, etc., etc. It's even entirely possible that all of this accumulation may actually result in pain or cause pain for others in any number of situations.

Working at jobs that we have to take and dislike or hate in order to pay for indulgences is really not gaining pleasure. It's actually avoiding pain. The pain comes when you don't have those things and feel emotional or psychological pain because you're not keeping up with the Jones's or meeting your parents, sibling's, spouses or offspring's expectations. We start our life off with all kinds of dreams and once we become adults and responsible for our own lives, the dreams get shelved and life becomes a rut, a drudge and sometimes a nightmare. How many people do you know (maybe you're one of them) who keeps putting off living the life they want, their dreams (pleasure) for when they retire? But, a lot can happen over all those decades including death, becoming physically disabled, emotionally and psychologically maimed by death of a spouse, a bad divorce, your offspring making poor choices and ending up incarcerated or imprisoned by aging parents who refuse to make age appropriate decisions for their stage of life and straddle you with the responsibility (and, often, guilt) of giving up your life and taking care of them. It's not that we don't care or respect them. It's simply that in today's society, at least in this and other developed countries, there are better ways for older people to have a very fulfilling life (a better life than sitting around a house doing nothing and having no one their own age to relate to) right up until the end with other people they can relate to in their own age bracket.

Life is very complex and for most people, though they've learned to cope, painful. Most of life, for most people seems to be about avoiding pain and making choices, often-poor choices, to do something, not to avoid or alleviate the pain, but to act as a painkiller. For some people it's gambling and playing the state lotteries. For other people it's alcohol, prescription drugs or recreational drugs (often used with the excuse of it being for medicinal purposes). For others it's buying "stuff." Women will buy shoes and purses and all kinds of clothes, not because they don't have any shoes, purses or clothes to wear or use, but because it's a diversion from feeling the pain - pain avoidance, in other words. Men will buy new cars and trucks, ATV's, boats, fishing gear, etc. The current vehicles may be fine, fully operational and low mileage, but there is a big sale at the dealership and they feel they need it, despite the fact that their payments will increase and stretch out another six years. They don't need the ATV or motorcycle or boat. They want it because for a short period of time it distracts (avoids) the pain in their lives. Yet, they don't use the toys enough to justify the pain the payments, interest, insurance, storage and upkeep costs.

Here's an interesting example of how the greed factor plays into this picture of pain. A man (or a woman) plays football in high school, college and then gets drafted into the professional league (it is likely a different physical sport for a women). These people began experiencing the pain of this choice during their first practice, but it really became apparent during their first actual game against an opponent who's intention (as is yours) is to tear the other team's heads off. But, as a professional player you will realize a contract, potentially, worth tens of millions of dollars. So, in search of the pleasure, you assume the pain that is inevitable. It goes with the turf, so to speak. You play the game for ten years and earn millions of dollars, often making way too many bad choices in using those millions. Your body is banged, bruised, lacerated and broken over and over again, but the greed to gain all that money that will supposedly bring pleasure drives you forward.

One day you realize that you just can't face taking another hit or the coach makes that determination for you. You retire or are retired (fired, in other words). But, now your body is pretty well worn out and broken up. Within a few years terrible arthritis and other debilitating physical ailments set in. You continue living everyday in pain that grows worse. One day in your 40's or 50's (a relatively young age in today's terms) you start realizing that you can't remember things or you can't do some simple thought processes that once were easy for you. Now, you realize that you have serious, irreversible brain damage. You traded a life of pain for all that money that's now being expended on medical treatments, medication and other necessities related to your situation. So, what's the answer? Start seeking sympathy from your "adoring" public about your terrible physical situation and passing the blame to the game and the league that paid you tens of millions of dollars for enduring the beating that you took. No one put a gun to your head to accept the pro football (or whatever sport it might be) job. You did it for all that gold you were going to be paid. You knew what to expect. You'd already played the game for six or seven years before the pros. But, now we should all feel sorry for you. And worse yet, you're going to hold the teams, league and the spectators/fans to blame and expect to extract more money from them because of your choice.

Pain vs. Pleasure

You could have followed another dream or maybe your real dream instead of selling your body and soul for the gold. Maybe you wouldn't have been paid millions on top of millions of dollars, but you might have loved everyday of your life doing something that still served a purpose and other people, while fulfilling your own dreams and life.

I certainly could have made any number of other choices in my life that not only would have avoided the pain, but actually gained me the real pleasures I was truly seeking. Indeed! I will not, hypocritically, blame my father, mother, sisters, teachers, college professors, friends, my Uncle Sam, clients, banks, my former wife or anyone else for my choices. I made them entirely on my own. And by the same token, I cannot and will not pass judgment on any decisions and choices you or anyone else made or makes. That's way above my pay grade. I simply want to suggest that everyone, myself included, needs to REALLY understand that there are only TWO GREAT MOTIVATORS that control every single choice we make from the time we're old enough to choose to spit out those strained peas we don't like as an infant until we are ready to head to Heaven, Paradise or whatever awaits us when we die. If we're smart, we'll choose to seek our own Nirvana while we're still alive on this Earth.  We'll focus on the choices that will take us toward the paths to the pleasure we seek and not be diverted down the paths that get us into the wrong relationships, debt, jobs we hate, but have to have in order to pay for the other bad choices we've made. Life is as complicated as we each want to make it for ourselves. But, it can also be as simple and easy and pleasurable as we want to make if for ourselves. What is your main motivator?  


Gayle Fox said...

Hello....I have read, and re-read this post because it resonates so deeply with me at this moment in my life as I search for *the* way to unleash the dragon...that is my soul's desire to escape the rat race and find a way to live. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. One that comes across in your writing. It is honest and to the point! Congrats...and thank you for leading the way for the many of us who only dare to dream of a much gentle life!

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Thank you, Gayle. I'm glad I was able to help you look inside yourself for the answers to your own "living free" lifestyle. I hope 2014 will be a break-out year for you to begin stepping out and exploring the possibilities. Most of us are hampered by "inertia." We stay where we are with what we have because it takes a lot to overcome the fear of the unknown. But, for those of us who have stepped off the ledge, most of us find it's just that - a step - not a great chasm to fall into. I guess to use another phrase, you need to take a leap of faith in your own dreams. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and abundant 2014 - and realizing some of the "pleasure" you're seeking in life. Keep me informed of your progress.