The pain-pleasure principle

February 14, 2023


Written by UJJI Team

The pain-pleasure principle

“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”

— Sigmund Freud

Have you ever wondered why clandestine operatives or secret agents, as the Box Office calls them, were trained to take “The pill” if they ever got caught? To them, that was an easy way out of unimaginable pain, even if the act wasn’t pleasurable. One of the greatest psychologists, Sigmund Freud, did exceptional work on this concept. He came up with a principle that sheds light on how pain and pleasure act as motivators or demotivators when people want to make choices. The pain-pleasure principle serves as the basis for one of the root causes of decisions we make, and it involves people doing what it takes to avoid pain or gain pleasure. For a better understanding of how this principle works, let’s also look at two scenarios.

The first is of someone who has been working in an organization for about a decade. They complain about how they don’t like the job and how the company treats them every time. The complaint goes on for years, and yet they are still on the job. At that stage, two things would have been inevitable. The first is that such a person’s complaints won’t change anything, and the second is that the only way out of that situation (the initially identified pain) is to quit his job and look for another one that will give him what he wants least a better offer. However, the thought of being jobless for the next few months until he gets a new job or figures things out (a perceived more enormous pain) makes him hold that thought every other time he thinks of it. He has chosen a lesser pain while avoiding the one he perceives to be much worse to him.

The second scenario is of someone who decides to save for an investment targeted at financial freedom. This person is not necessarily in pain but has agreed to postpone immediate pleasure (perceived to have a short span) for future happiness with a longer duration.

If you notice, you will realize that pleasure and pain served as the reason to demotivate and motivate both people, respectively. One could also ask that, what if the person in the former could persevere that perceived pain to achieve job satisfaction? The answer is that while one can still choose when it comes to pleasure, pain at any level of intensity is undesired, and so, people will always opt for the quickest chance to avoid the pain.

Now that you know the basis of pain and pleasure, can you identify any pain you have been avoiding but will have to face to make progress? Or any pleasure you will have to reject for the primary time for personal development? Once you have identified the items under both categories and can take the bold step, you will make better decisions after that.

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