Pleasure & Pain
Our Mind has a lot of different functions, but probably the most crucial, important one that overrides pretty much anything else is: Avoid pain. Seek pleasure. It’s been like this since time immemorial and for a good reason. First of all, it ensured the survival of the species. If our ancestors wouldn’t have done their darnedest to avoid pain, it is very unlikely that I would be sitting here writing this, or you reading it later for that matter. We’d be simply all extinct as a race. Secondly, seeking pleasure made sure humankind continued to grow – there is a reason why nature made the process of procreation quite pleasurable. Ok, I hear you ask, what has this principle got to do with values?
To answer this question we must first look at what values actually are.
From basic survival to Values
We as a species have evolved a great deal over the last two million years since homo Erectus, one of our very early ancestors, started migrating out of Africa in large numbers. As our civilization grew more complex and we as a species more conscious, the pleasure/pain cycle started to slowly expand. All of a sudden it was not merely about avoiding stupid things that got you killed and seeking nice things that brought you pleasure anymore. As our Minds evolved and we started learning more about the world and our perceived place in it, we began to form signposts if you will, benchmarks, of what we considered painful or pleasant. Those benchmarks grew more and more complex as the complexity of the human existence increased.
Values in today’s world
Consider for a moment the average human life in the 21st century. Our existence has become so complex it is mind-boggling. We deal with a world whose pace seems to be ever increasing, and we perceive constant demands from all sides. We need to be efficient and skilled workers, loving and understanding partners, reliable friends, we are supposed to be polite, helpful, law-abiding and in general pretty squared away. And we learn to be all that within the cultural and personal context we grow up in – our values are primarily a result of what we have learned, or have been shown. Remember, initially we have absolutely no references. So the world will tell us what’s wrong or right, what to avoid and what to strive for. If you grew up in a functional, supportive family, your value list of pleasure might look something like this:
See how these become values because we experienced them and felt good about them? On the other side of the spectrum, a child growing up in an abusive environment where dad beats mom every night he comes home drunk from the bar, their pleasure values might look very different:
- Feeling sheltered
- Being tough
Totally different values, but they have one thing in common: They move the person holding on to them closer to their perceived state of pleasure and further away from pain. One important thing to remember is this though: Avoiding pain will always override seeking pleasure. Values determine everything we do or don’t do. They are all about the archaic principles of pleasure and pain, and this is hardwired into us. And we create our values by modeling them after what we are being told and shown while we are young, and later in life we keep adding more and more of them as our mountain of experiences grows.
Be mindful what you give Value to
Whatever we value as giving pleasure or avoiding pain, we will strive to achieve it. In other words, we want to go there. In a way we are slaves to our values, so that’s why it’s extremely important that we are mindful and aware of what they really are. Unfortunately, most people don’t really have a clue about their values. And when values become unclear and muddled, our lives seem to have no real direction. They may still feel “good” to us, but there is no real sense of satisfaction, just this underlying feeling that somehow, some way, it could be more. Becoming aware of one’s values is a crucial step towards living a life of passion and purpose. You can’t decide where you want to go if you are clueless about what your destination is.
Interested to learn more about the concept of Values? Reach out to me for a free, no-obligations intro session.