Pleasure and pain: Our instincts are backwards

From a review of Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality:

Ariely points out that adaptation can be slowed or even prevented through intermittent exposure to the underlying stimulus — that is, if you take a break, the emotional sensation comes back with nearly full force.

Here’s where our intuitive response is really wrong: we have a tendency to indulge our pleasures without respite, and to take frequent breaks from those things that make us miserable. This is exactly backwards. If you want to maximize your pleasure — a great dessert, the delight of furnishing your first real apartment after graduation, a wonderful new relationship — you should trickle it into your life, with frequent breaks for your adaptive response to diminish. If you want to minimize your pain — an unpleasant chore, an awful trip — you should continue straight through without a break, because every time you stop, your adaptive response resets and you experience the discomfort anew.


Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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  1. I think generally speaking there’s this view (at least in the world) that the church is constantly in need of catching up with science, when often times it’s the other way around. You mean fasting, vigils etc can be beneficial? Persevering in the face of pain and struggle is the surest way through? That’s just crazy talk :)
    I love the example of circumcision. Thousands of years ago God gave the people of Israel the covenant in which they were to circumcise all new born boys on the 8th day after they were born. What have we discovered several thousand years later? The 8th day after a baby is born is the only time in their entire life where the levels of prothrombin and vitamin K (necessary for clotting) will naturally exceed 100% of normal levels. God is smart like that.

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