There's a little story told about Elon Musk in one of his autobiographies.
When I was a little kid, I was really scared of the dark. But then I came to understand, dark just means the absence of photons in the visible wavelength--400 to 700 nanometers. Then I thought, well, it's really silly to be afraid of a lack of photons. Then I wasn't afraid of the dark anymore after that.
What intrigues me isn’t how little Elon overcame his fear of darkness with scientific theories, but the story itself has touched upon the broader concept of understanding the opposites. Just as darkness exists due to the absence of light, our understanding of pleasure is closely connected to our experiences of pain.
Mark Manson, the bestselling author, once tweeted that “If everyone were extraordinary, then by definition no one would be extraordinary”. This suggests that extraordinary can only be discerned in the presence of ordinary.
But analogy is analogy. Pain and pleasure must be different, right? After all, there’re many people hate dealing with pain more than they’re scared of the dark.
To better illustrate the relationship between pain and pleasure, it is important to understand that they are not standalone experiences, but rather exist on a continuum.
Continuum of Pain to Pleasure with Neutral as Midpoint Pain <---------- Neutral ---------> Pleasure
Imagine a world where pain is absent, and only pleasure prevails. In such a scenario, our understanding of pleasure would shift, making the continuum appear as:
Continuum of Neutral to Pleasure with Neutral as Endpoint Neutral <---------> Pleasure
And it is the neutral that becomes the new extreme opposing pleasure. Did you see the contradiction here?
It is clear now that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. They intertwine with each other to enrich our experiences.
However, there’s a distinction between pleasure followed by pain and pain followed by pleasure. It’s instant gratification versus delayed gratification. As Derek asks, “Are you present-focused or future-focused?". A question worth pondering.
From my personal experience, I’ve encountered both situations. When I’m more focused on the present, I feel happy, but I tend to postpone important tasks to someday called never. On the other hand, when I’m more focused on the future, I feel satisfied when making progress towards my goals, but I often lose sight of the small moments of joy and gratitude in everyday life.
Regardless of your preference, remember not to equate workout to pain or sweets to pleasure, even though your brain may trick you into thinking that way. After all, pain and pleasure are not separable.