A Meaningful Life
By: T. Franklin Murphy | April 2018
Surviving the Momentary Discomforts
Biologically driven to chase pleasure, we avoid pain; but modern society evolved quicker than our biological systems could adapt. We must measure impulses first for effectiveness.
Joy is pleasurable—it feels good. We want to feel good; secure, loved, healthy and happy. We willingly work to maximize the comforts and minimize vexing annoyances. Underlying emotions motivate action. Consciousness adds a new complexity to the biological drives of action. We seek pleasure and avoid discomfort--to some extent. We differ in self-discipline and the importance of futures, but most behaviors are driven by immediate pleasure or hope for pleasure in the future. But living is more than a sacred quest for pleasure. Our minds do much more than blindly march to the beat of the emotions. The thoughts mull over the anxieties, the challenges and joys, giving meaning to our experiences; and with meaning life becomes a rich feeling experience. The distress of momentary discomforts softens with wisdom as we accept life for the feeling experience that it is.
Our bodies constantly flow with emotion, pushed to respond to needs and fears. Pleasurable feelings motivate behaviors that the body believes will improve survival and the passing on of genes. Or as masterly presented in evolutionist Richard Dawkin’s classic The Selfish Gene, the gene is the instigator of action ensuring its own survival and propagation. Survival of a species, a gene, or an organism isn’t determined by a single choice but formed through a complex and lengthy process of adjustments to surrounding environments and competitions. The demands of living continually change, demanding new adaptations for survival. Biological changes can’t keep pace. The complexity of human survival in rapid changes environments dilute clear biological distinctions between survival needs and simple pleasure. Past biological imprints may no longer be relevant to modern survival.
The social world has changed exponentially over the past few millennia. Many evolutionary adaptations lag woefully behind. Biological adaptation occurs over millions of years, while social changes occur over months, years and decades. The industrial revolution radically changed survival needs. Many physical needs for a well-functioning body were historically in short supply. Obtaining them ignited great pleasure because it satisfied thirsty bodily need. Products that we can buy at the local grocer, often required strenuous effort in the past. Pleasure drove action; limited supplies provided natural controls on consumption. In abundance, we must utilize self-control occasionally foregoing biological driven pleasures for better futures. We don’t sleep with our neighbor’s wife, over extend credit, or feast on hostess cupcakes. We endure the discomforts of biological drives because we consciously know the anxieties these momentary pleasures can cast on the future.
"In abundance, we must utilize self-control occasionally foregoing biological driven pleasures for better futures."
No matter how cute the puppy in the window appears, if we don’t have the resources or time, bringing him home creates more disruption than the momentary pleasures of slobbery kisses and warm cuddles. Biological attractions and repulses are essential—the building blocks of action. They are the foundation of survival. But we must harness and mindfully evaluate impulses for applicability in our modern world, refining behaviors and focusing on the long-term impacts of present action. Momentary pleasures often create future pain.
We often derive more benefit from enduring the momentary discomfort of an unfulfilled drive in the present than sorting through the disastrous consequences many of those drives create for our futures. The utility of the choice may require lifting our gaze to more fulfilling horizons.
Intimate relationships, long careers, healthy children all require working through an onslaught of emotions, pushing through fears, squashing angers, and suffering through sadness. We can only manage these discomforts when they are a part of larger meaningful purposes.
Living a rich, meaningful life fills existence with feeling. A flourishing life—both for ourselves and future generations—requires the full range of human emotions; and not mindlessly limiting ourselves to chasing costly momentary pleasures.