By Jennifer Allen
Sharing the holiday with other people, and feeling that you’re giving of yourself, gets you past all the commercialism.” ~ Caroline Kennedy
As yet another year draws to a close, we’re lambasted by the typical downpour of holidays which often drill inside our heads that the only way to achieve joy is with spending money on a myriad of decorations, gifts, and food. While all of that was pleasant when I was much younger, over time I’ve grown past the desire for overabundance. Now all that I crave is something so simple that it can be achieved through something big, small or somewhere in-between.
The perception of joy is as different as each person, place or thing which harnesses it. Indeed, many great thinkers have questioned what the true definition of enjoyment is even at its base level. The most straightforward view is that it’s a state of finding an experience pleasurable. In turn, that feeling is often described as the opposite of anguish which most living creatures seek to avoid.
While that does seem like a sound definition, I have observed especially in the last few decades that joy and anguish are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Enjoyment often leads to misery which in turn causes us to seek out ways to extinguish it. Eventually it becomes a never-ending ebb and flow of sensations.
This is perhaps why many beliefs have illustrated the need for restraint. Within the warrant of self-control, the pleasures that we do experience are more specialized. You essentially keep yourself from relying on any potential attachments, since such embellishments are constantly evolving and rarely stable. The ideal existence is then built upon the exercise of self-constraint. You avoid the very concept of desire and in turn develop a sort of self-sufficiency.
On the other side are those who see absolutely no need to suppress either pain or pleasure. Often cited as hedonists or epicureans, these seekers of the profane drift upon the constant wave of ups and downs in search for perfection by means of extreme sensations. It can be quite liberating to toss away any and all concerns about restriction and discipline. Having the freedom to do and think as you wish certainly has its perks.
As I originally mentioned, however, pleasure is subjective to the one who desires it. That is to say… enjoyment exists only insofar as it is felt by the one who experiences it. Watching a film or listening to a piece of music may bring joy to one person, while that same film or music may conversely administer pain to someone else.
In modern society, we find ourselves entrapped within a whirlwind of capitalism, where joy is discovered through the acquisition of wealth and consumption. The various holidays through the tail end of calendar year have tapped into this unrelenting complacency through the practice of gift giving, extravagant holiday decorations, and gluttonous amounts of food & drink.
But… is there any way at all to restrict ourselves against such overstimulation of commercialism, and what role could our enjoyment play in such resistance?
That can be quite difficult to achieve when it’s drilled into our psyche over and over again that owning the newest and best electronic device, wearing the most stylish clothes, or driving the flashiest car will provide the happiness we all crave. But is this addiction to consumerism strictly subjective, or instead influenced by what societal norms tell us we should legitimately feel. Essentially… our methods of attainting enjoyment are profoundly shaped by the culture of our time.
As I touched upon in my article last month, there is the added benefit that while pleasure is subjective it is often heightened when shared with others. Going to a concert and feeling the mutual energy flowing between each member of the crowd can elevate your own gratification. To me, the greatest enjoyment is generous and reciprocal; neither merely for the self, nor the other. While we may still live in a world where egoistical enjoyment stands tall, we always have the option go against this instinct and instead consider the pleasure of others above our own.
I personally find myself gradually shifting from a constant need of shiny things for myself to instead a mindset of providing more nonmaterialistic pleasures for others. Something as modest as a hug, a warm smile, or a kind word can be so much more impactful than a holiday card or snazzy trinket that could be forgotten about in a month’s time. Who I am and who I can become is not just because of my own actions, either. My overall happiness has become a communal task shared with family, friends, and even acquaintances.
Achieving a fully enjoyable life can be an unrelenting ebb and flow of both resistance and compliance, but if we make an effort to alter relations with ourselves, with others and with the world… then I believe joy can be achieved whether you exchange physical gifts or simply enjoy each other’s company for an evening.
Happy holidays to all… and may joy find you in new and exciting ways during the upcoming New Year.
Jennifer Allen works at Saathee and is also a Podcaster, Blogger, Photographer, Graphic Artist, Gamer, Martial Arts Practitioner, and all around Pop Culture Geek.