I love science. I really do, but sometimes, I wish all those researchers would just shut up. We humans are entitled to a little mystery. Like the making of sausage, we don’t need to know about everything that goes on inside us. When I savor a hot fudge sundae, for example, do I care if the experience is hedonic or eduaimonic?
Unfortunately, science ignores what I think. They’ve already decided that eating a hot fudge sundae is an hedonic pleasure, as is taking a bubble baths or lazing in a hammock on a sunny day. The experience makes me feel good but does little to improve my health. In matters of a longer life, eduaimonic pleasure is the one that counts. That’s the kind we humans experience when we hold a baby or do a kindness for someone else. Call it the “aw-w-w” feeling that makes us feel warm inside. Science says that feeling is the release of oxytocin, a potent hormone that fights stress by giving our hearts and immune systems a boost. (“How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body,” Good Housekeeping, December, 2013, pg. 78) When we are altruistic — say running an errand for a friend or volunteering at a homeless shelter — oxytocin is our reward.
Centuries ago, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, observed that “Man is by nature a social animal.” After all those years, science has proved him right. Nature has imbued us with a health dividend, bankable whenever we put someone else’s welfare ahead of our own.
Maybe knowing the difference between hedonic and eduaimonic pleasure has its uses, after all. A New Year’s resolution to work harder to help others wouldn’t go amiss. In a funny way, we’d be putting ourselves and our health first.
(Courtesy of tw.tzuchi.org)