Pleasure Principle

As a teenager, “the pleasure principle” to me was a Janet Jackson song and I didn’t realize it also defined our drive to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  This principle explains well why porn is so popular and that people can act a certain way or buy things they can’t afford. One could argue that our country slid into a recession egged on by the banking and loan industry encouraging the pleasure principle. Corporate executives who commanded outrageous salaries and indulged in lavish lifestyles are really no different than anyone else. Would you turn down a pile of cash to make your life easier? That would be a hard call. Seeking pleasure is inherent in all of us.

The cruise vacation I went on last month on Royal Caribbean’s largest ship, the Oasis of the Seas, is a great example of the pleasure principle that is so engrained in our culture. Everywhere on this ship the message is “you’re on vacation” and offers the ability to feed your whims for immediate gratification. Now I understand why Newt Gingrich insisted on taking his cruise vacation to Greece last May. He said it gave him time to think, and while that may be true, I’m sure he did other things too. It would have been a whole lot easier if he said he needed a vacation like anyone else.

Temptations are endless on a cruise. If you have an addiction problem, be forewarned, this vacation is not for you.  There is the casino, so if you have a gambling problem you’re out of luck. If you struggle with sex addiction, of course, on the ship you have access to wide selection of pay-per-view porn available on the TV in your state rooms.  If you’re a food addict, this would be a bad vacation for you, at several locations there is an unlimited supply of food. Even at the pool, children clamor around ice cream machines to pull the lever for unlimited amounts of frozen yogurt to come tumbling out on to cones. You have to pay for alcohol beverage so if you’re an alcoholic who hates paying for drinks, you might fare okay. Or you could just smuggle alcohol in your suitcase. (Here’s a really good product to do that by the way, Rum Runners.) 

Everywhere you’re encouraged to eat, drink, sleep (or stay awake all night) and have sex in excess. Strangely the only place this ship curtailed some excesses was the afternoon matinee of the less bawdy reversion of the Broadway play Hairspray.  The show was good but many may have been disappointed in the watered down version of this production.

In stark contrast to all the pleasure seeking on our cruise, I couldn’t help but notice the people who work at Royal Caribbean and that their lives were not about seeking pleasure but struggling to earn a living. Sure they had good jobs, but they sacrificed to have those jobs too. Our head server in the dining room, for months at a time, left her eight and half year old son with her mother in Croatia to serve our meals. Our room attendee wanted to be an architect but had to leave school because the tuition was too expensive.  The beach attendant in Haiti, who delivered my beach chair, probably makes one of the highest salaries in his whole village, and I couldn’t help but wonder about his living conditions at home since the earthquake. I’m grateful for the wonderful vacation but these observations made the experience feel wrong on some level. I guess I’ll always be a social worker at heart.

The desire for pleasure is a driving force for all us and I think necessary to live a fulfilling life. But those who greedily seek out pleasure with disregard for others will ultimately pay the price. Whether it’s the guy at the next table in the casino who will gamble away his life savings, or corporate executives who greedily accepts their salaries despite the disparity among the people they employ, ultimately striking the right balance in seeking pleasure will keep us sane and peaceful. For me, life was so much simpler when the pleasure principle was just a Janet Jackson song. By the way, she’s still awesome and I love this video. Take a look!

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