For about a week I’ve been waking up and wanting coffee right away, and allowing myself to indulge in that. It was good; it was my favourite coffee, and I got exactly what I wanted. Every morning it satisfied the ‘want’ I had, and that always feels good — knowing what you want, and getting that. But then one day when I wanted coffee, I decided to just have juice instead. It didnt satisfy the want that I had—the thing I knew about, that was in the forefront of my mind—but afterwards I did feel more satisfied than I did on the days when I had the coffee. I got something more than what I wanted from the juice than I would have from the coffee, because I want expecting it. It was a surprise.
Satisfying what you know you want might not always be the best thing for you, even if it fulfills that want that is present to you. Sometimes there is something else, that you might not know you want but that will be better for you. It might be less obvious, or your desires might not show you to it at the moment, but once you’ve tasted it, you know it’s what you needed. We know what will give us pleasure and we know all the things that will satisfy us right now but, “the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things which are worst for them.”
Joy is deeper and more pure. It might not always be as easy or as accessable as the instant gratification of a particular desire, but it always lasts longer and reaches deeper than simple pleasure. You might not always be able to find it when you are looking for it, but when it does come to you it’s a wonderful treat, and well worth the extra effort. It reminds me of something one of my professor told me last year: “when given a choice between pleasure and joy, always choose joy”.
Recently a friend of mine mentioned that she didn’t really get the point that John Green tried to make in TFiOS about, “The existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate” and I have to agree. We thought about how pain is necessary in contrast to… pleasure, or happiness; you need one to know the other. If there were only happiness, then that would just be the only state of existence that things are in. It would just… be. Without the contrast there would be no need to differentiate one from the other by calling one “pain” and the other “happiness.” Unpleasant things do have an effect on pleasant things, because without one we wouldn’t know the other.
Here is something C.S. Lewis said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Without pain we might begin to feel content; we might forget that this world is merely a road to another, better, lasting world and start to believe that we are already home, and therefore stop our travelling. We might start to think that this is all there is and that it’s not so bad (because after all, there would be no contrast between pleasures and pains) and thereby lose our deepest desire—that deep longing—for something that we don’t quite know, but that we all know, deep down, that we desperately want.
When confronted with pain, sure, you can shrug it off and say, “shit happens.” But what good does that do? That’s counterproductive; that makes pain seem meaningless, when in fact pain forces you to do something, it forces you to react, because if you don’t you’re just going to be living in pain. It’s like when you touch something hot, as soon as you feel the heat on your hand, you move your hand away! You react to the pain in such a way as to put a stop to it.
When I was about to post this (weeks ago now) I saw this posted by John Green on tumblr, in a reply to a question:
"then wouldn’t the suffering be evenly distributed so that we could all experience the exact right amount of it to have our joy ideally heightened?"
But doesn’t that assume that all people are the same, not that individual people are uniquely receptive to joy and suffering or that certain people deal with suffering and different kinds of suffering in different ways? The way in which people deal with suffering uniquely shapes them as an individual, both by how they choose to deal with it, and also by the specific form the suffering takes, so maybe the “uneven distribution” has a point… ?
What I mean is that, the supposition that there ought to be some “fairness” presupposes a uniform sense of equality among all people, like they would all get the same amount of good things and bad things, but that’s not how individuals work. You have your pile of good things and bad things and how you decided to deal with those throughout your life have been a contributing factor into who you are now and how you got to be that person. Your unique pile of good things and bad things and how you chose to deal with them is what brought you to the point where you are now and shaped the individual that is reading this right now to be that peculiar, unique, one-of-a-kind, individual.
“For moral virtue is concerned with pleasures and pains; it is on account of pleasures that we do bad things, and on account of the pain that we abstain from noble ones. Hence we ought to have been brought up in a particular way from our very youth, as Plato says, so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education.”
- Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics