Purpose and Pleasure
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 14, 2020
We travel through life, sometimes towards meaningful destinations, other times aimlessly wandering. We need both purpose and pleasure for psychological wellness.
Life’s a journey—beginning in the womb, ending in the grave. This metaphorical explanation of life is rife with allegorical wisdom, providing structure to organize the chaos of experience. This week my wife and I took a short walk up a prominent peak in northern California, overlooking the Trinidad fishing pier and state beach. The main trail was well-marked and maintained, climbing quickly to the top. We worked our way through the arduous climb, routinely diverging from the main trail, following small paths that led to incredible vistas. We lazily explored each path, soaking in the beauty, basking in the awe, and then returning to the primary trail, eventually arriving at the planned destination. Life is difficult—more than a leisurely walk. However, challenging climbs and beautiful vistas accompany our travels as we awkwardly move forward with purpose.
People approach life differently. There’s no perfect allotment of structure and flexibility. We bounce between chaos and structure, openness and protectedness. Many tackle life with intensity. Goal driven. Success oriented. They have the get-to-the-destination attitude. The exclusive focus on the destination allows little time for rejuvenating digressions. Hard-driving individuals power to the top without diddle-daddling along the way.
There’s no perfect allotment of structure and flexibility. We bounce between chaos and structure, openness and protectedness.
Others live on the edge of chaos. They have little motivation to arrive at a distant destination. They aimlessly wander. Structure free explorations is pleasure focused, providing momentary escapes, and surprise discoveries.
In between free-for-all chaos and unbending structure, we find flexibility. While we easily see the theoretical faults of overly structured or complete chaos, we fail to recognize our individual proclivities of chaotic wandering or rigid rule following. Objectivity is a beast. We get lost in rosy colored subjectivity. The best mixture is fluid; not only different between individuals but varying in need according to context. Well-meaning encouragement for flexibility is dangerous when directed at an audience of chaotic explorers. However, change the audience to rigid, goal-driven robots and the advice to pause, breath and enjoy the sunset is more than appropriate.
Like most self-development advice, we are challenged to evaluate our style and need. We must identify protective explanations that excuse comfortable habits. The red flag is waved when we defensively argue that our balance is perfect—it is not. Perfection is seldom achieved and never maintained. We need to either expand our perspectives by widening our exposure or limit diversions by focusing on the goal.
Somewhere in the fabulous journey, we find psychological wellness—a healthy dose of pleasure and achievement. Many activities integrate both pleasure and purpose; we find enjoyment in meaningful pursuits. We must, however, engage in some work that isn’t pleasant. Some sections of our journey quickly ascend, challenging muscles and endurance. In these trying moments, we must periodically escape with pleasurable excursions to pick a few flowers and enjoy breathtaking views. The simple diversions provide rest to our weary legs and rejuvenate our tired souls, preparing our minds and bodies for the remainder of the climb.
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