Imagine eating an orange. To the extent that eating it is enjoyable (rather than repulsive or neutral), I’ve come up with 9 primary ways in which the enjoyment can be processed. They are cumulative… it’s possible to enjoy it for all 9 reasons at once. Such an occurrence might be called an Enjoyment Yahtzee.
- You enjoy it because it distracts you from something less enjoyable (escaping)
- You enjoy it because it’s the easiest thing to eat at the moment (practical)
- You enjoy it because it is tasty (pleasing to the senses)
- You enjoy it because it’s healthy (nourishing to the body)
- You enjoy it because you’ve never had an orange before (novel)
- You enjoy it because it puts you in a better mood (mood-altering)
- You enjoy it because a friend is sharing it with you (socially meaningful)
- You enjoy it because you think eating an orange makes you look good (ego-validating)
- You enjoy the orange for what it is (intrinsic)
In rough order of weakest to strongest forms of enjoyment:
This is enjoyable by comparison. Watching television can be enjoyable if you are watching it in order to avoid engaging in an argument, or facing work that you don’t want to do. It’s the cheapest form of enjoyment.
The enjoyment of what is simply practical is a pretty shallow form of enjoyment, but it is at hand and that is what is enjoyable about it. You may want to be an ballerina, but you’re 7’3″ and the star player on your basketball team. Being an all-star basketball player is enjoyable because it is available to you, it is right there, and it can be taken. Perhaps a more mundane example would be the enjoyment of eating frugally, making the best of the ingredients you have, rather than daydreaming about that steak at that fancy restaurant that you can’t afford. There is an enjoyment of living within your means, making lemonade out of lemons, and eating the whole walrus and using all of the bones for your igloo. It is frugal, it is neat, it is present, and it is self-sustaining.
Pleasing to the senses
Because something is cold, because it is tasty, because it is beautiful, because it sounds good, because it feels good. Enjoyment of the senses is something that is core to all of our experiences and often labeled as a potentially dangerous form of enjoyment. It leads to hedonism, pursuit of immediate gratification, etc. But there is nothing inherently negative about pleasing the senses, unless enjoyment of this particular avenue eclipses all the other kinds of enjoyment. Eating oranges alone in your closet even after you’re full at the cost of being social, trying new things, and nurishing your body has been the downfall of more than one that I know.
Nourishing to the body
Our body needs certain things to maintain basic function, and luckily it rewards us for satisfying those requirements. Drinking water when we’re dehydrated, eating the necessary amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, BREATHING. All very enjoyable, right? This level of enjoyment also extends to getting enough sleep, being warm enough, and exercising. They contribute not only to the strength of our bodies, but to a very clean form of enjoyment.
The first time we experience something we experience it in a way that can’t be replicated by repeated experiencing. The novel experience is enjoyable because it is connecting things in our brain that have never been connected before: the flavor of squid, the view from a hang-glide, sex for the first time, smoking pot or getting drunk the first time. They are enjoyable for themselves, true, but there is an additional element of something almost resembling fear, or anxiety, or excitement, that is enjoyable. More to some than others.
We are all strongly tied to our moods. So much so that we defend them as a core, possibly unchangeable, part of our identity. Getting angry when we feel angry is a basic right of humanity, and we often don’t feel responsible for our anger as much as simply unavoidably angry. At the same time, we are all obsessive tinkerers of our moods, always trying to lift ourselves into a better mood, or indulging a weak one. Regulating breathing, drinking caffeine or alcohol, eating something sweet or fatty, shopping, watching television, doing yoga or meditation, exercising, and slamming a fist on a table are all simple mood-altering actions that, in some way, create enjoyment (regardless of their additional strengthening or weakening impacts). Enjoying something simply for the fact that it indulges or enhances our mood taps into a very powerful aspect of knowing yourself. Knowing the most effective mood-altering activities, and knowing which moods are impacted positively and effectively (and avoiding the indulgement of harmful emotions) is one of the best studies we can make of ourselves.
This is a very interesting and broadly reaching form of enjoyment. Enjoying something because you’re making money, for example, is a form of socially meaningful enjoyment. We enjoy money because it has meaning in our culture and gives us power that we didn’t previously have. Socially meaningful enjoyment also includes that enjoyment of sharing an experience with a loved one. Doing something becomes more enjoyable if it helps you gain the respect of your peers, friends, family, or even strangers. A wedding’s enjoyment is largely based on the public enactment of vows, traditions, and symbols that gain the weight of our culture. Doing a favor, participating in a group, being paid, and receiving credit are all forms of enjoyment that gain their flavor from being socially meaningful.
The ego loves being validated. It loves feeling big and fluffy, and that love is expressed in the form of luscious enjoyment whenever something happens to give it a stronger form. For example, the act of being known for something, like eating the most hot dogs in a 6-minute period. That in itself is a form of socially meaningful enjoyment, but the next time you’re on stage and the gun fires and you begin stuffing your mouth full of hot dogs as fast as you can, the ego-validating enjoyment of “THIS IS WHO I AM” kicks in and takes it to a new, inwardly facing enjoyment that exists outside of society, outside of the pleasant taste of hot dogs, into a tiny world where only you exist and you are doing what you were meant to do on this planet. And it is lovely.
This is the truest form of enjoyment, the kind that perhaps only deities are fully capable of. The love of something simply for what it is. Unconditional love. To appreciate that orange for what it is, you have to be equally okay with losing the orange as eating the orange. You have to simply want what is best for the orange, and never need recognition for what you are giving the orange with this unconditional love. This enjoyment of what is intrinsic about the world, a detached but fully engaged perspective, transcends all other enjoyments in its ability to satisfy, because it cannot be touched, has no limits, and lasts forever. We should all strive to fully enjoy in this manner at least once in our lives.