Hedonism. A word with many meanings. Some see it as a philosophy. Some as a way of living. Some as a synonym for sexual debauchery. It’s a topic that is rarely discussed publicly. It’s an experience that is lived in private, but rarely one admits to it without a touch of guilt. Pleasure still carries a heavy social tax. Indulging in food, alcohol, experiences, sex – it has to come with an excuse and a “guilty pleasure” caveat. It’s seen as irresponsible, meaningless, unsustainable. It comes with a warning that if we continue down that road for too long, the outcome will be ominous. That’s why it’s accepted as an occasional escape route, not as a way of living. A responsible life is clearly prescribed, defined, and it’s a recipe for a lifetime of happiness.
And it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Hedonism is not irresponsible. A true hedonist is not an irresponsible person. They don’t live for the moment – they live in the moment. It’s not just semantics – there’s a huge difference between the two. People who live for the moment – don’t care about tomorrow. They take what they can, experience whatever they can experience at the moment, without any thought about what happens next. They don’t care if their actions affect anyone else. They don’t care if there are personal consequences for their health and wellbeing. Reckless behaviour that leads to misery and disappointment.
People who live in the moment – love life in all aspects. They think about the future, without sacrificing their pleasure today. It’s a fine balance that requires thoughtfulness and experience to achieve. They enjoy the moment, the situation they are in, the life they currently have, the experiences they are immersed in, while knowing that it’s just as important to have the same, and better, experiences tomorrow, and 20 years from now. They care about others because they know that sharing pleasure multiplies it.
That still doesn’t answer the question…
What is hedonism?
The short answer would be – it’s a way of living. Pursuit of pleasure, as the most important goal in life. The guiding light in a hedonist’s life is the question: Does this bring me pleasure? It may sound simple, but it’s a very complex idea. It applies to all aspects of our lives. It’s very easy to answer this question when it comes to short-lived, temporary experiences. Does this meal bring me pleasure? If not, I’ll pick something else. Does the sex at this moment, with this person bring me pleasure? If not – I should stop it, or change something. Does this shirt bring me pleasure? If not, I’ll put on another one. The same principle applies to long-term experiences though. Does being married bring me pleasure? Does having kids please me? Does this career please me? If the answer is no – the solutions are not as simple as replacing it with something else. There are consequences for these decisions. A true hedonist has to be very analytical, think forward, and think broadly. That requires superb knowledge of oneself and understanding of others. It’s not just excitement and enjoyment – it’s empathy and communication.
Many of the long-lasting life experiences (marriage, kids, career) can not be altered without serious consequences. Abandoning your family, or quitting your job without a plan, will bring suffering to those around you and yourself. Ideally, you should have the awareness, knowledge of self, of the world, and of the people around you, that will allow you to make an informed decision beforehand. However, life doesn’t always play out the way we’ve envisioned it and that requires the ability to make meaningful, lasting changes, with respect for everyone involved, still abiding by the leading principle – does this please me? Very few situations in life are unchangeable. If a marriage is at a point where no discussion is possible, and each side is not willing to do something about the unhappiness of the other – then maybe it shouldn’t continue. Even then – it can be done respectfully, with care, with consideration, and with minimal damage. Why is that important? Because whatever decision you make – stay or leave – will affect you for the rest of your life. It will affect your pursuit of pleasure for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.
Hedonism is often criticized as being too egoistical. It is. And that’s not a bad thing. Your life is centered around you. You are the centre of your own universe. That does not equate to selfishness. If you want to be responsible towards others, if you want to care about others, if you want to be useful to others – first and foremost you must take care of yourself. If you are unhappy – how can you contribute to other people’s happiness? If you are sick, how can you help someone in need? Even if you do, it will be short-lived and not nearly as effective. Egoism first, altruism second. The most difficult aspect of it is understanding that to love others and to be loved by others, you must love yourself first. Forget for a second about being the good samaritan, sacrificing yourself for others, doing what is right for others… think about yourself first. Your wellbeing is most important. Your satisfaction is most important. Your pleasure is most important. Stop worrying about irrelevant things. If something causes you too much grief – eliminate it from your life. If something brings you pleasure – repeat and multiply it.
How does hedonism manifest in our lives?
It’s different for every person. What brings you pleasure? I enjoy great food, great wine, and cocktails, visiting beautiful cities, sex with beautiful people, nice suits, good music, interesting performative art, provocative paintings… And I try my absolute best to have more of those things in my day-to-day life. I make sure to visit all the great restaurants in whatever city I’m in, and I revisit the ones that impress me often. I don’t settle for a good wine or cocktail, I try to find the best ones I can. I don’t travel with a checklist, I love revisiting the cities and places that have brought me joy and pleasure. Sex is not a quick response to the needs or passions – it’s an event, an immersive experience for all senses, body, and mind.
It takes time to figure things out. It takes time to realize what brings you pleasure and what doesn’t – even if it may seem simple. Some things are obvious, but we make so many tiny decisions during the day, and we do so many little things, we interact with so many people, objects, situations, that it’s easy to ignore them and be on auto-pilot. And most of the time, the auto-pilot coordinates are set by the society around us. We need to erase that code and write a brand new one. Ours. Unique. It’s not easy, but what’s the alternative? Living a life that someone else decided for you? Floating in mediocrity, surrounded by things that are “just OK”, but you don’t really care about? Imagining a different life, but never getting a taste of it? Fuck that. Break the frames. Forget the code. Live your life. Pursuit pleasure at all times.