Monday, March 17, 2014

I Have A Problem With A Pleasant Day

Silvestro Lega, A Walk in the Garden, via Wikimedia Commons

Yes: I have a problem with a pleasant day.

My problem is not the well-known Future-Freak-Out problem -- that you can't enjoy a pleasant day today because you're too worried about what will happen tomorrow. For whatever reason that's not my thing. Generally I'm probably not worried enough about what will happen tomorrow.

My problem also is not Mindfulness-Or-A-Lack-Thereof. I know there are people who can enjoy now because they're distracted thinking about something else. But I don't think that's me. Generally, if the day is pleasant, I can enjoy it.

No, my problem with a pleasant day is more perverse, and has to do with OK-What-Was-The-Point-Of-That? I mean, that AFTER a pleasant day, I can't see the point of having had the pleasure. The pleasure over, the day feels wasted, spent or given way for nothing, something I was cheated out of. Somehow I can't enjoy the pleasure after it's ended. And then the fact that I'm going to feel this AFTER infects how I feel NOW.

If you think about it, it's surprising this doesn't come up even more often. I mean, one of the main elements of folk psychology of our time contrasts the impulsive feeling and pleasure seeking parts of ourselves with the rational planning parts of ourselves. 

But how is the rational planning part supposed to factor in pleasure? In this previous post I expressed my mystification at the idea that the planner could have any way of adjudicating how much pleasure is the "right amount" - it's like needing an answer to an ill-formed question.

But then there is this whole other problem, which is that from the point of view of the planner, how is the pleasure of the past any use at all? At least with the pleasure of the present and future, you can see how that would get a grip on a person, capture their motivation, feel meaningful. But the pleasure of the past?

It feels like in terms of the past, the planner can only evaluate how well certain goals were achieved. Like, if you're trying to finish writing the Great Canadian Novel and on Tuesday you spend five hours on it and you get 10 pages written then the planner inside your heart has a clear way of entering this information into the system. But what if you knocked off on Sunday and sat around watching TV or even just going for a nice walk? What can the planner say about that other than, Oh Well.

For me this problem is most acute when it comes to A Pleasant Day. Because if something is really fun, exciting, super-pleasurable,  you just kind of get swept up in it and you tell the planner to go to hell. But a garden variety pleasant day: it's harder to figure out.

It seems to me the planner can only make sense of a pleasant day by working in some idea of a "goal" of having pleasant days in one's life. But why would that be a goal? I mean, insofar as something is a pleasure, it'd seem you'd want it. But that seems almost like a tautology. It's not a thing you'd come to think because of reasons.

If you ask me, the problem is the whole feeler versus planner metaphor, which seems to misconstrue the relationship between how you feel about something and how you decide whether to do it, by seeing these as two separate things.

If that's part of the story, then it would seem the reason I've got a problem with a pleasant day is that I've somehow internalized the feeler versus planner metaphor, despite its difficulties. And I think that is possibly true. Doing a little armchair psychology we might observe that the subject -- me -- spent her young adulthood as one of the worst planners in the world, routinely missing class to drink, take drugs, and "just hang out."

It wouldn't be surprising that such a person, faced with the prospect of life as an endless succession of doing nothing, would over-develop her planning capacities, and adopt, even if subconsciously, the metaphor of the all powerful planner who knows all and controls all.

As long as the subject hasn't shut that planner up with some pinot grigio, anyway.

1 comment:

Jim Tigwell said...

This describes pretty much exactly how I feel about relaxing Sundays, idle hours spent playing and chilling, or worse, hours spent working on personal projects and the creeping doubts about their meaning and impact. Only replace the pino grigio with videogames.