Why Does Our Experience with Pleasure Fade?

Happy Life: Happy Marriage Series

Why is it that what makes us happy today may not make us happy a month from today? All of our desirable experiences are transitory, says David Myers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness.

While some people are generally more happy or loving in their relationships than others, even the happiest don’t maintain endless joy. Pleasure wears off as we continue to be satisfied. That totally stinks, doesn’t it? That means the TV we were totally fine with five years ago is not nearly big enough or clear enough for us today.

Even the pleasurable experiences we have with our mates can fade in our minds. The same experiences we once enjoyed immensely probably won’t result in the same high of emotions if we attempt to repeat them. The “in love” feelings also fade and are replaced by different feelings and emotions.

This isn’t meant to be a downer, but rather as a reminder that even when things are the same, we may see them as different and think of ourselves as less satisfied.

Expectations & Comparisons
Our expectations and comparisons also affect how happy we are in the relationship. Myers explains that experiments demonstrate that watching X-rated movies tends to diminish satisfaction with one’s real-world sex life, which may appear less exciting. Even looking at perfect “10” centerfolds causes one’s own partner to look less appealing in experiments. Our minds adapt to what we take in.

The author says the good news is that we have the capacity to adapt even when negative—or tragic—events strike in our lives. Individuals and couples who have gone through a period of crisis often find they are stronger for it.

Managing our expectations in everyday life seems to be important for our overall happiness—in love and in life. A friend recently noted how much happier her husband is because he isn’t trying to “change the world” as she is. Simple desires make for happier people, she noted.

Unrealistic expectations can doom us to failure. Sports stars and movie stars who expect $5 million for a job are miffed when they are offered $4 million. Charlie Sheen won’t be happy until his enemies are licking his feet. We should be a little more careful about the expectations we create.  

Our relationship and life goals should be reasonable. Short-term, doable goals can still lead up to a lofty one. The expectations we place on our spouse should be reasonable as well.               

What Makes Life More Pleasurable?
So, what’s the answer to making everyday life seem better? Should we reminisce about our favorite memories and highest highs? Myers says this strategy backfires. “Despite our enjoyment of happy memories, there is both theory and evidence to suggest that dwelling on the Camelot moments from our past makes the present seem pretty pedestrian,” he says. In fact, if we use our happiest memories as yardsticks, it makes our present seem blah. If we can see these super highs as rare gifts, not as expectations for daily living, we are better off.

It’s also better to be reminded of the darker side. Pangs of loneliness remind us of how much we enjoy time with our spouse. Hunger makes food taste better. Being tired makes sleep feel heavenly. Those who recover after hospitalization find they are happier than before they were ill.

Myers says even self-imposed sacrifices can make us appreciate life and have more gratitude. “The sacrificial bowls of rice during Lent make the roast chicken tastier. The temporary separation from a loved one makes the reunion sweeter, the person less taken for granted.”       

In sum, the following can make our perception of our lives and marriages improved:

  • Restrain unrealistic expectation.
  • Count our blessings.
  • Make goals short-term and doable.
  • Be careful with comparisons.
  • Don’t focus on an idyllic past; make new memories.

Is there a time in your life that you remember as being more perfect? Does it make you feel less happy when you compare your current life to that time?

Photo credit: ©Valery Shanin/PhotoXpress.com

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One response to “Why Does Our Experience with Pleasure Fade?

  1. Pingback: There’s More to Life and Marriage Than Happiness | Marriage Gems

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