Updated: Apr 3, 2019
Firstly, what is it? Well, my old-school soft-cover Dictionary of Psychology describes hedonism as a motivation towards pleasure (and avoidance of pain), and that humans must strive toward hedonism (p318, Reber, 1987).
Let's focus on pleasure. I really liked finding a use for that old dusty dictionary .. as much as I don't push myself to exercise, I enjoy it when I do, especially stretching, because it feels good. The cognitive neuroscientist in me could tell you about the endorphins that are released during exercise, but I'm guessing that you already knew that. I'm not a dog-person, but when I see a scruffy middle sized pooch, I turn into a mess. That's the serotonin being released, as though I were playing with children or holding a baby (and the oxytocin, too ..). To me, this little dog has magical powers. Look into her eyes..
When I was little I used to be a bit of a cry-baby, apparently; and I was your typical downtrodden teenager. But something changed as I got older. I learned a few tips to trick my brain.
The first was meditation. I remember meeting Audrey, a neighbour who lived in my block in Sydney during my twenties. Audrey rubbed my forehead between my brows and said, "Open your third eye. Meditate". And I proceeded up the stairs to my unit, finding myself deeper and deeper into a relaxed and meditative state with each step. What followed, is a story for another day.
The point is, though, that a relaxed state can be achievable. You can use absolutely anything in your life to get you there. And trust me, I've had years of struggle and confronting trials.
With meditation, you use tricks. The first trick is to manage your breathing. You breathe in and out, slowly, in a controlled manner. You might even hold your breath or breathe in through one nostril and out the other. It really doesn't matter because the point is, that when you slow your breathing, you relax a little more.
The second trick is to increase your awareness. You might focus on the sounds outside your body, ground yourself to the earth, imagine your soul connected to the core of the earth and the immense expanse of the sky and all in between. You might focus simply on your own breathing, on being still, or on contracting and relaxing each muscle in your body. By increasing your awareness, you practice mindfulness and control over your thoughts. Because you are aware of your thoughts, you can learn discernment.
The third trick is visualisation. With your increased ability to tune out the white noise of life, by focussing on what is important to you (e.g., your health, your sanity), you can start to take your mind to other places and times. They don't have to be real, either. Imagine a place where you feel safe and comfortable. You can use visualisation to focus on breathing your healing spirit into a body part that gives you problems.
The fourth trick is blessing with love. I've known people who've been told by therapists to go home and make a list of all the things for which they're grateful, and to make a new list every day. It's exhausting because it's difficult when you're depressed! The trick here is to start small. I have lots of affirmation cards - many of which are treasured gifts from dear friends - and one is at my door. It says "I bless my home with love. I put love in every corner; and my home lovingly responds with comfort and warmth. I am at peace." (Louise Hay's beautiful "Power Thought Cards"). When you say this affirmation, you imagine love flowing freely from your own heart into every corner, every wall, each door and window; and you allow yourself to feel that love reflected and reciprocated back into your heart. Your own love is powerful enough to heal your own wounds.
I also have this photo near my door. I have done for years. It's me, in the chookyard, cacking myself! I love it; I think it's the best photo ever taken of me; I believe my eldest sister (Beth) took it. It seems to be before my brother (Paul) told me stories about spiders and snakes in the chookyard and scared me half to death.
I'm wearing training pants that my mother made; I'm comfy and free! Look at those chubby arms, those front teeth, the love! I've had this photo near my door for so long because originally it reminded me to be happy and kind to others as I left home for work, but now it is there just because it makes me happy.
So we're getting to the point. Natural Hedonism. It takes all the mediation practices you've ever learned, and turns them all up that one notch that's been missing. Feeling happy.
Natural Hedonism is about taking pleasure in the little things in life. This morning, I changed the sheets on my bed. The fitted sheet is a tight fit. At each step, I said to myself "Done". Fitted sheet on (done), top sheet on (done) .. you get the picture. "Done" is one small syllable away from "Well done". If you're having trouble getting out of a rut, start there. One tiny thing done, say it out loud. "Done". Keep doing it until you start saying "Well Done". Keep doing it, and getting the words bigger and better. "Achieved" ... "Accomplished" .. Housework might not be everyone's idea of fun, but you can improve your experience with the words you use.
I like to have my breakfast every morning on my back deck, which looks over my yard that's filled with fruit trees. I greet the lizards, dragonflies, birds and lady beetles, and I often have butterflies flying right up to my face and fluttering around me for about twenty minutes. I feel blessed every time. I delight in the flowers on my trees and the fruit as it buds on the branches and ripens. When I go for my morning walk to the nearby University of Newcastle, I get excited to see the white-bottom brown bunnies (bob-tails? I prefer my name for them - say it out loud!), and I love seeing the Chitty-Chitties (Willie Wag-Tails), Jenny-wrens, Blue Fairy wrens and finches. I breathe in the fresh air and feel strong.
At these times, I can feel grateful, but it's more likely that I'll feel happy. I take pleasure in these little things. I'm glad that I have a cosy home where I feel safe and loved, where wild animals feel safe too.
So, before we part company for now, let's recap. You can trick your brain into feeling happy. Slow down your breathing to relax your body. Choose something on which to focus to hone your mind. Use your imagination to visualise the state you want. Allow your love to flow out from your heart towards a surface (any surface - it could be imaginary and it could be human), and allow your love to come back to you bigger and better than before. Positively affirm every little thing you do, and make the words you use bigger and better and full of love. Feel proud of your efforts, however small. Enjoy each tiny thing in your world, because everything you have is a gift (even the tough stuff, because you see how strong you are).
Thanks for staying with me for this long! If you're interested in more, drop me a line using the contact page. You might want a Wellbeing Workshop for your conference, a Transformation Retreat for yourself or someone you love, a meditation download, a research project, long-term change management, or a Measurable Change Workshop that's tailored to your organisation's needs. I'm here and I'd love to help.
Love, light and laughter ~ to you and yours ... Mary-Claire