We love instant pleasure and comforts at the cost of our health
Why do we sacrifice our health for the sake of immediate comforts and pleasure?
Our life is filled with conflicts of different nature and of varying degrees. To do or not to do, this or that, consume plenty of our mental energy. One crucial conflict we all encounter is regarding our experiences with temptations.
Whenever we get tempted to pleasurable things, to what extent we experience them is the main area of mental conflict.
Every day in our life, we face problems about resisting the temptation of tasty but unhealthy food, excess use of pleasurable goods, and activities like watching porn, taking drugs, consuming alcohol or smoking. It’s extremely difficult to avoid these pleasurable and tempting things but at the same time, damaging for our wellbeing.
We continue to pass resolutions and make promises to ourselves to avoid or minimize these alluring things but most of the time we fail. Our willpower is not strong enough to resist such temptations in life.
Over and above, we attach more importance to immediate pleasure and so called ‘better things’ of life. We tend to discount their positive or negative outcome in future.
Like, we keep on smoking despite knowing its extremely harmful effects on our health. Since serious illnesses like cancer and heart ailments will appear, if any, after some years, we don’t bother to leave this habit so easily.
All of these temptations like smoking, taking alcohol, drugs and eating tasty but harmful food items result from a phenomenon known as delay discounting. The consequences that may arise in future are discounted compared to immediate ones.
At a young age, remaining physically fit is a future goal but eating unhealthy food items like French fries, burgers, coke, and doughnut is an instant pleasure. So, they for instant sensual gratification.
To resist pleasurable goods and services is an extremely difficult task. Let’s take the problem of overweight and obesity in the modern age, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight in 2016. Of these over 650 million were obese.
The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Primarily the reason has been an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars.
Either they are not able to resist the temptation of unhealthy food or they heavily discount the future consequences (delayed cost). We generally don’t take the future risks and harmful consequences seriously because of delay discounting.
The same reasoning applies in case of global warming. The consequences of destruction of natural ecosystems like forests, rivers, oceans and mountains have never been immediate. That is the reason it went on for decades, despite warnings of environmentalists and scientific community.
Even now when the world has started witnessing the real impact of climate change, humanity is still not prepared to take drastic measures to stop further destruction of nature. Here again, the issue is between immediate gains versus future consequences. We attach more importance to our immediate needs.
How to resist temptation for the sake of future’ good?
Now the question arises as to how to resist and avoid the temptation of experiencing pleasure or comfort with detrimental consequences. First of all, we must realize that it’s better to avoid rather than resisting such types of tempting things.
Avoiding means not to encounter such pleasure-inducing goods and activities in the first place. For example, if we bring coke, sweets or doughnuts or any other tasty but unhealthy food item then it’s very difficult to avoid the same. So, it’s better if we don’t bring those items to homes. Our willpower gets weaken if such things are in front of us.
We should also identify the places or situations where we are tempted or those things are easily available, then avoid them. Another recommended and well-studied way to avoid temptation is to invoke Ulysses Contract. This contract is after the name of Ulysses, the legendary Greek hero.
The Odyssey is one of the two epic poems attributed to the ancient Greek poet Homer. It was probably written in about 700 BCE. It is widely recognized as one of the great stories of all time. In Homer’s Odyssey, which hero, Odysseus or Ulysses (Latin name) encounters the Sirens, a type of beautiful but dangerous creature during his voyage from Troy.
In Greek mythology the song of the Sirens was so seductive due to their sweet voice that enraptured sailors and they run their ships into the rocks to eventually die. Though there are few variations of this story. But primarily the message is that the deadly temptation of sirens during any voyage through that island were led all the sailors to die.
Therefore, the challenge was to resist the fatal temptation of siren’s song.
In Greek mythology, the story goes like this. As Ulysses was about to approach the island where sirens were living, he devised a clever plan. He blocked the ears of all his sailors with wax so that they couldn’t hear the sweet but deadly voice of sirens.
As the hero Ulysses wanted to hear the sirens singing, he ordered his men to tie him tightly to the mast of the ship. By doing so, Ulysses and his men sailed past the said island. His all the men couldn’t hear the sirens voice because their ears were blocked with wax.
At the same time, though Ulysses could hear the sirens voice but his hands and legs were tied with the mast. In this way, the deadly song of sirens couldn’t affect the ship. This is how, Ulysses survived the voyage to tell the tale.
Ulysses made a conscious decision so that he could resist the temptation of hearing siren’s song. He was well aware that siren’s song would be too tempting to resist so he entered into the pact with his men and himself.
He created the conditions in such a way that they would not able to experience the temptation. So that, there is no opportunity to fall victim to those tempting and deadly songs of sirens. He overcomes the difficulty of resisting temptation by entering into an unwritten contract, known as the Ulysses Pact or Ulysses Contract.
The contract is a freely made decision that is designed and intended to bind oneself in the future. It’s very useful in our day to day life.
- First of all, what we can learn from Ulysses Pact is that our willpower is generally not that strong to resist strong temptations in life. We succumb to those temptations easily. We therefore need something more than willpower. So, it’s a better idea to reinforce our willpower with reward and punishment.
- Second, whenever we feel we are weak in handling our habits or addictions for temptations, then we should invoke Ulysses Pact, while making any plan or strategy for that purpose.
- Third, it’s easier to avoid any temptation rather than resisting the same. Ulysses also avoided the temptation by blocking the ears of sailors with wax and tying himself tightly with the mast. Rather than directly facing the sirens and resisting the temptation.
The best way to challenge these urges, impulses and temptations and enhance our willpower is through our mindful behaviour.
First of all, we should be self-aware and conscious about our tendencies, triggers and temptations due to which our willpower gets diluted and we surrender to those tempting but harmful things, in the long run.
Our behavior and actions should not be impulsive, reactive, and mindless.
We should respond to situation appropriately as the need demands. When we are attentive, focused and present on the moment, we are fully conscious and aware. We will the make conscious choices. Hence our behaviour is mindful. Even if we are eating tempting food items, it doesn’t matter as long as we are conscious about our eating.