There is a misconception which is extremely common among Americans, it pervades our culture and society on all levels. This is the mistake that the opposite of Pleasure is Pain. We want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This assumption causes massive problems as we American go to great lengths to avoid pain and seek pleasure at all costs.
Years ago, in Yeshivah (a Jewish school of Wisdom), my rabbi proved to us that the opposite of Pleasure is really not Pain. The opposite of pain is no pain… comfort.
But pursuing comfort and shunning pain leads to warped values and wasting your life. The ultimate comfort is what? Zoning out, sleeping, death. You won’t need to make any effort, there is no pain, no change, no growth. Growth requires pain. Anything worth accomplishing requires you to invest your energy, time, and talent.
Pain is the price you pay for Pleasure
Pain is the price you pay for Pleasure. Remember this, use it as a slogan when you are faced with difficult decisions, tough workouts, choices that will bring you pain now and pleasure later.
My rabbi, many years ago, pointed out that valuing comfort had made American society decadent. To seek comfort, to avoid pain, is decadence. Avoiding pain means avoiding a hard job, dificult classes, points of view that challenge your own. It is avoiding growth, conflict, change. Decadence is weakness, avoiding pain brings stagnation.
Most Americans now avoid or delay marriage and having children, as these are painful. Of course they also bring pleasure and meaning to life, but too much pain! It’s hard to manage the relationships with a wife and children, to lead in those relationships, to be a worthy guide to next generations. It needs a high level of competence, preparation, and all of your effort and dedication. This is pain.
Interestingly, in Jewish culture, a man does not finally fulfill the entire commandement of “Be fruitful and muliple” until his own children beget offspring. This means he has guided his family to become mature and successful, and to value continuity and legacy. Any man can impregnate a woman, but to raise their children to share his values and continue his legacy is the mark of a real man. This requires a high level of passion and commitment to your goals, to teach your children by your example.
Comfort does not equal Pleasure
Seeking comfort often leads to prioritizing pleasures now, and putting off the inevitable pain. We all know the couch potato who is going to start dieting and exercising…right after this TV show…or after the next one. Next week. In January. Putting off the pain leads to the need for a greater dose of pain to earn the pleasure being fit and healthy. Choosing to continue the comfort may mean the ultimate pain of a premature death that was preventable.
You may be in a relationship that is not working, but it’s comfortable. You are used to it. Comfort. Lobsters also get used to water coming up to a boil. Comfortable, mmm, nice warm water… until it is too late. For you, ending or deconstructing then reconstructing this relationship will be painful. Seriously painful, with permanent consequences. But it’s not working out. The challenge is to see that your choice is NOT between comfort and pain, your choice is comfort or pleasure. Getting to the pleasure will take pain. What you you have to weigh is comfort without pleasure against pain now and pleasure later.
Pain is the price you pay for Pleasure
The men in the best shape are those who take the pain of exercise, of lifting heavy weights, with the awareness that this pain brings their pleasure, their growth, their muscles. But it takes wisdom, you can’t just lift your max every day and expect to grow without injury. You need to plan, prepare, warm up, lift, rest. The men who win in competetive sports take the pain of pushing themselves harder and faster in training and races. Again, they don’t just go out and kill themselves, they have a plan and prepare. They are aware that their sport demands pain to win at high levels, and at least subconsciously they accept that pain is the price you pay for pleasure.