It’s OK, as long as I am not harming others. Right?
Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued. Bertrand Russell
This statement caused me to immediately pause and consider the extent to which it is true. Since choice theory is in my quality world, the statement was filtered through my concepts of choice theory. How about you? Is Russell’s view accurate?
Unlike most psychiatrists of his day, Glasser did see importance in moral behavior, although his definition of moral is significant. To him, moral behavior occurred when a person met his own needs without keeping someone else from meeting theirs. He frequently referred to the Golden Rule in the Bible as a good maxim by which to live.
If we stopped here, Glasser would probably support Russell’s statement about personal pleasure. However, Glasser didn’t stop with just his definition of moral. He went on to describe the difference between pleasure and happiness, at least as he came to define them.
He came to see happiness as a key human need and goal. He viewed the terms happiness, choice theory, and mental health, as synonyms. He felt that it could be said that “mental health is choice theory is happiness.” Happiness comes from being close and knowing how to stay close to the important people in our lives; it comes from engaging in activities that add strength to our lives; and recognizing our basic needs and our power to make choices, more and more we come closer to being in self-control. Happiness has much to do with our relationships with other people.
Glasser came to see pleasure as something people pursued to temporarily change a feeling. His concept of total behavior has feeling as one of the back tires on the total behavior car, a part of our behavior that we cannot directly control.
The concept of total behavior reminds us that our mental health and happiness depends on our ability to choose to live in the realm of the front tires – that being our thinking and our acting. Our feelings can be very strong, though, even what “feels” like overwhelming. Many people attempt to address the feeling, rather than staying on the front tires. A desire to feel good, or at least to not feel bad, can lead to many behaviors. Some seemingly innocuous ways we attempt to feel good or numb our pain include eating, shopping, traveling, watching movies, and playing video games; less innocuous ways of feeling good include alcohol, various drugs, sex, including pornography, and gambling. The ways in which we attempt to feel good are in fact the ways in which we self-medicate. Self-medicating behaviors do not address the root of our unhappiness; they just attempt to change a feeling, even for just a little while. This self-medicating pursuit of pleasure leads to two things – 1) you need to up the dose of whatever your medication of choice is, and 2) addiction. Rather than coming into a place of greater personal strength, we arrive at feeling powerless in the presence of our “pleasure.” And rather than bringing us closer to others, especially the important people in our lives, our pursuit of pleasure erodes our personal connections.
This additional definition of pleasure vs. happiness adds an important element to how we might process Russell’s statement. Now, when we read . . .
Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued.
. . . we realize that pleasure that does no harm to others may still be harming me. And it brings up a really important question – Is it possible to be in the process of harming myself and not, ultimately, to be harming my relationship with the important people in my life?
The Glasser International Conference is coming up next week in Toronto, Canada, and I am looking forward to seeing all of you who are a part of that. For me, it will be a bit of a homecoming, as I began my teaching career in 1978 in Oshawa, Ontario, just 1/2 hour from Toronto.