We explore the link between hedonism and your health, and how to turn it to your advantage

AS the new year sets in, we tend to set new year resolutions and long term goals for our coming year. However, perhaps we’ve forgotten or overlooked short-term pleasurable activities as they’re associated with a negative connotation as they’re linked to the egoistic pursuit of short-term gratification by indulging in sensory pleasures without regard for the consequences.

What is hedonism

Hedonism is defined as the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence. When you think of the word, you might imagine getting drunk and partying every night, but what if we think of hedonism as the intentional savouring of simple pleasures, like having a cup of coffee with a friend or cuddling with a pet?

Hedonism and its philosophical ancient roots are not based on a life of untamed appetites, but on moderate pleasures and respect for others. By seeking and maximising these kinds of simple pleasures, it can boost our health and well-being.

How hedonism is linked to your health

A state of pleasure is linked with reducing stress. When we feel pleasure, our sympathetic nervous system which controls our fight or flight response is calmed.

We then experience relaxation and stress relief, and studies have also shown pleasurable emotions with broader and more creative thinking, as well as a range of positive outcomes including better resilience, social connectedness, well-being, physical health, and longevity.

If your morning coffee gives you pleasure, just pause and relish it while you drink. Inhale the fragrance fully and focus on the warm, smoky, bitter deliciousness of it. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands and immerse yourself in the moment.

This kind of savouring results in a totally different, and richer, experience than if you absent-mindedly gulp down the coffee while dodging traffic and talking on the phone. The act of savouring intensifies the pleasure we extract from simple things and delivers greater satisfaction from them.

According to a research from the University of Zurich and Radboud University in the Netherlands, enjoying short-term pleasurable activities that don’t lead to long-term goals contributes to a happy life at least as much as self-control.

Much research has been devoted to finding out how we can reach long terms goals more effectively, and the prevailing view is that self-control helps us prioritise them over momentary pleasure, and if you’re good at self-control, it supposedly leads to a happier and more successful life.

In the research, it was found that certain people get distracted by intrusive thoughts in moments of relaxation or enjoyment, because they are thinking about activities or tasks that they should be doing instead. For example, they might think about needing to work out when they’re watching TV on the couch.

Those thoughts about conflicting long-term goals undermine the immediate need to relax. On the other hand, people who can fully enjoy themselves in those situations tend to have a higher sense of well-being in general and are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

How to maximise pleasures

We’re surrounded by ideas of the sort of things that will make us happy. We tend to think that in order to be satisfied, we need to aim for extraordinary experiences and feelings, expensive purchases, and fancy holidays.

Think about the last time you felt glad. A pleasure may disguise itself and may look very minor, like eating a delicious lunch you made, having a bath, a conversation with a grandparent, or looking through old photos.

Yet, these pleasures are anything but small.

If properly enjoyed and delighted upon, these sort of activities may be among the most moving and satisfying we can have. Appreciating what we have at hand isn’t an attack on ambition, but there’s no point in chasing the future until we’re better at being more attuned to the modest moments and things that are presently or readily available to us.

More fundamentally, the smallness of small pleasures isn’t really an assessment of how much they have to offer us. Instead, it is a reflection of how many good things the world unfairly neglects. A small pleasure is a great pleasure in waiting, and appreciating small pleasures means trusting our own responses.

Start by doing more things that you’ve always wanted to do. If you’ve been putting off activities because you think that you should save up your money, try and enjoy life a little.

Instead of restricting yourself and thinking you’ll just do it some other day, consciously make time and plan to do them this weekend.

If you can’t identify what brings you pleasure or pain, write down things you’re grateful for for the day as well as things that you didn’t like. Start noticing a pattern of what makes you happy and what doesn’t serve you as much, and reevaluate the life you’re living at the end of the week. After that, slowly make the changes to make your life the life you want to live.

Notice how your body feels throughout the day and write it down, notice how your body reacts to the food you eat. If something feels bad or you feel yourself starting to stress out, pause what you’re doing and take a break. If you find yourself trying to justify and rationalise the bad things, it’s time to be a little more honest with yourself because maybe your body is telling you that it doesn’t want to play this character that you have created anymore.

By giving way to occasional hedonism, you can get a better quality of life. Of course, suffering is inevitable in life, and learning from our mistakes and pasts will always help us, but the pursuit of pleasure will help us to live a more enjoyable and longer life.