Narrow Pleasures

The expansion and contraction of the things that bring pleasure.

A narrowing of the things that give you pleasure.

I’d imagine one way addiction narrows pleasure is by raising the bar for pleasure – nothing else compares to the high that the ‘addictor’ brings.

It’s an interesting statement for many reasons.

It’d make just as much, if not more, sense if you replaced ‘addiction’ with ‘depression’.

In fact, if I had to, I’d have defined being depressed as ‘narrowing of the things that bring you pleasure’. Not that it’s an attempt to prove the two are the same – just that perhaps there’s a great deal of overlap.

Addiction might narrow down the things that bring you pleasure – maybe to the bare minimum, the addictive thing.

And it’s not really pleasure then is it?
More a ‘relieving’ from pain – the addictiveness lies not so much in providing pleasure as in relieving from the craving.

If pleasure was a positive number and pain a negative one, then it’s not really adding anything positive; just temporarily reducing something negative.

And being depressed is much the same – not finding any pleasure in anything. In other words, a narrowing down of the things that bring you pleasure, to zero or near it.

So what does it mean? Why the overlap?

Perhaps it’s causal, and means addiction is likely to lead to depression. It’s not the only way to a depressed state, but it is one way.

Which is pretty intuitive – if addiction narrows the things that bring pleasure, then fewer things will bring pleasure, and hence pleasure is occasioned less often – which means a less pleasant existence.

And is also quite evident – you don’t usually associate addicts with happiness.


Perhaps that’s one kind of happiness, to derive joy from nearly everything around you – a sunset, a tree, the sound of birds chirping and so on.

It aligns with that adage of ‘finding joy in the simple things’.

Is happiness really an expansion of the things that bring you pleasure?

Does narrowing down the things that bring you happiness necessarily mean that you decrease your happiness?

Perhaps it makes sense in terms of ‘time spent happy’.

A person who got happiness from only one thing – say chocolate cookies – would only be happy when he got them. Perhaps less than a hundredth of his life.

Whereas someone who derived happiness from a million things – from sunsets to birds chirping to showers – might be happy half his life.

But is time really the appropriate measure? Is a second of happiness from X equal to a second from Y?

There’s an underlying assumption that all things bring the same intensity of happiness, that is, the same units of happiness per unit time. Which isn’t necessarily true.

Take that assumption away, and total happiness becomes intensity of pleasure * duration of pleasure.

If you had but one source of happiness, it might just be a beacon of light in a dark world. And such a light may well burn far more intensely than one spread across millions of beacons.

Which is to say that one second of happiness from X may be worth more than a year of Y.

Regardless if that’s true, I’d disagree that happiness is an expansion of the things that bring you pleasure – though that could just be a defensive reaction from someone with a narrowed down stream of pleasure.

I’d wager the Pareto Principle holds here as it does elsewhere. The familiar 80/20 rule – 80% of revenue from 20% customers, 80% of work done by 20% of employees, 80% of wealth with 20% of people.

And 80% of the happiness (if not more) from 20% (or less) things.

Can one not achieve the same net happiness, just sourced from fewer things? It probably comes down to individual choices, to value a few things a lot or many things a little.

And finally you run into the question – whether all humans have the same capacity for happiness.

Not just how many things bring you happiness, but how much happiness they bring you.

It may well be that some people are capable of a great deal of happiness, and others of much less.


The inescapable question – is this good or bad? More precisely – Narrowing bad, Expansion good?

It’s so often taken for granted this is the case.

And from this the inevitable leap to How do I expand the things that give me pleasure? The how to that follows every good / bad judgment.

And then the concomitant tips, hacks and gimmicks that ensue. Gratitude journals, mindfulness sessions, the attempts to forcefully unearth joy in the little things.

Setting up an image of ‘being happy’ as something to strive towards creates the intentionality that artificializes existence and renders distant the very happiness it seeks to manufacture.

Whether a person derives joy from a sunset or a waterfall or the chirping of birds is a factual question, not a moral one. Some do, and others don’t, but neither are ‘wrong’ or the worse for it.

But when a person feels he ought to strive to derive joy from it, he likely moves farther away from happiness.