I wouldn’t say I’m bored with my journey exactly; it is just it is not quite as exhilarating as it once was. I mean, the landscapes I pass through are still very beautiful, and the random people I connect with in remote villages still bring me a surge of joy, but I suppose I’ve been on the road cycling for so long that it’s just become my every day.
The idea that we get used to having certain things or experiences and that they cease giving us pleasure is, I’m sure, nothing new to most people. It has happened to all of us: that latest gadget, a new pair of shoes, the effect we first felt from cigarettes or alcohol, a pay rise, a bigger house, a wider and flatter television screen, all may have given us some instant pleasure, but eventually these things cease to pleasure us as much as they once did.
But what can be done about it?
What most of us tend to do is just keep on trying to obtain more. There are always more adventures, more gadgets, more shoes, more cigarettes, more alcohol, more money, bigger houses, wider televisions, to be had that may give a boost of pleasure.
But of course the pleasure from more of this or that never lasts. We again just adapt.
It is easy to find one’s self hooked into needing ever more of one thing, or indeed everything, never that satisfied. We might even find ourselves expending a lot of energy into trying to meet the need for more, and even then the pleasure from ever more might be so short lived that it might be practically non-existent. Perhaps to obtain ever more we work long work hours or our health gets out at risks, hampering our ability to appreciate the pleasure when it comes.
Fortunately, there is another way. . .
Another way is to practice periods of abstinence. It has been demonstrated that in temporarily giving up something that brings us lots of pleasure, or at least did once upon a time, the pleasure we then derive from that thing once we resume is larger than had we not given it up, and in this way the pleasure can be sustained beyond just the short-term.
Abstinence impedes our ability to get used to having something in our lives. While abstinent it gives us space to re-evaluate our relationship with whatever it is that we’re abstinent from – perhaps there might be more appreciation, less compulsion, greater self-compassion, recognition of the deeper need being fulfilled, and a discovery that the same need can be fulfilled in other ways – and ultimately this may be better for our well-being.
It seems to be working for me. . .generally across my life and on my cycle journey.
I have experimented with abstinence in some form or another over my life. For example, with coffee, with food fasting, with alcohol, and with technology, to mention a few. How I abstain, as well as my intention behind the abstinence, has been different for each thing, and there have been various outcomes that have left me feeling happier. For example, with coffee, although I like the idea of having a cup each day I know that I don’t get as much pleasure from each cup when I do, and so I ensure I have a day without coffee for each day with coffee so when I do drink coffee it feels like a real treat. Whereas, I initially tried to deal with a difficult relationship with alcohol with some periods of prolonged abstinence, but then I decided to abstain indefinitely. Food fasting, on the other hand, I do once in a while and has generally helped me establish a better relationship with food.
My current cycle journey has involved a great deal of abstinence. It is easy to take many things we have in a technologically advanced society for granted. I’ve learnt to live with whatever I’m prepared to carry on my bike, which isn’t a whole lot of stuff. Lots of things I don’t miss at all. There are other things I’ve learnt to do without and find other ways of meeting the core need. There are some things that I’m much more grateful for in my life (hot showers, warm duvets, and fully equipped kitchens) and when I do happen to chance uponthem I enjoy them to an extraordinary degree.
It has been more or less essential to abstain from certain aspects of life to support my journey and reach all these remote and beautiful parts of the world. But as I said at the beginning of this post my journey doesn’t seem to be quite as exhilarating as it once was. I am experimenting with abstinence to try and deal with this, for example, by cycling a lot less each day and taking much more complete rest days.
Not just about pleasure
Yet it isn’t just about pleasure. Sure, getting pleasure from life is important but it is only one aspect of happiness. To truly flourish as human beings, it is also important to have purpose, self-acceptance, autonomy, positive relationships, environmental mastery, and personal growth (see my excellent blog post differentiating between the types of happiness).
My current cycle pilgrimage to Bhutan is not solely about seeking personal pleasure. The journey is an attempt to understand how each one of us can truly flourish as human beings, and in the process flourish myself. But, of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t need a little pleasure here and there along the way (as we all do on our respective journeys). . .without it I’d have given up a long time ago. . .