What Is Pleasure Out Of Proportion?

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In medical school we studied necrotizing fasciitis, colloquially dubbed “flesh-eating bacteria” in the lay press.  One of the hallmarks in distinguishing this disease from less aggressive soft tissue infections is pain out of proportion to physical exam findings.   

I’d come to remember this concept decades later, as I began to develop a reciprocal theory: pleasure out of proportion.  (Decontextualized, this might sound like a hedonist’s call for more hookers and blow – not my intention.)  In my mind, pleasure out of proportion referred to those pursuits that made me deliriously happier than could be rationally explained.

I had witnessed it in various friends at different times in life: surfers and cycling enthusiasts, home brewers, the buddy who saved and then blew every penny he earned after college to stage off-Broadway plays he wrote in tiny venues because it gave him a high like no other.

I got my first taste of pleasure out of proportion after college, as a 22 year old summer backpacker in Europe.  Every few days, I’d show up in a new country where I did not speak the language.  Using a guidebook and my wits, I’d navigate the new terrain.  I found independent travel by turns empowering, connecting, isolating and contemplative.

Over the years, I devised my personal list of pursuits that provide me pleasure out of proportion, discovered at different stages of life and valued for different reasons.  To date, they include:

  • Contemporary fiction
  • Surf kayakingAn excellent cup of coffee to start each day
  • Independent international travel
  • Family Dominoes
  • Bodyboarding with my 3rd grader
  • Hiking
  • Beachcombing with my 1st grader
  • Thrift store clothes shopping with my wife
  • Monthly Bird Walks with a local expert
  • Sculpting polymer clay creations with the kids
  • Dump and Run escapes with my wife (“Your grandchildren miss you SO much…See you in a week!”)
  • Hygiene-Free Guy Weekends (eg, white water rafting through the Grand Canyon with old friends)

    As my wife and I approach financial independence, more of my time is allotted to items on the list that increase or replenish my joy.  The nice thing about the list is that the activities aren’t necessarily expensive, and the happiness I derive does not directly correspond to the cost of participation.

    What’s your pleasure?

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