A Modern Photograph
Recently my brother-in-law took a fascinating picture of my thirteen year-old nephew on his first day after summer vacation. In the photo my nephew is sprawled on the La-Z-Boy recliner in the living room. On the wall in front of him is the big screen television, tuned to a basketball game. In his lap is a laptop computer playing a Netflix action movie. And in his hands is his smartphone where he is happily scanning through his social media.
To me – and to many of us who are over 30 – this is beyond information overload. My nephew can’t be absorbing all that data. It’s obviously too much. We might even say he’s being unhealthy. The brain, after all, has its limits.
My nephew isn’t alone, either. Far from it. The millennial generation has been weaned on a continuous stream of data, from morning to night, always on, 24/7. If you want to punish a modern teenager, remove their WiFi access. Or, if you’re feeling particularly cruel, take their smartphone away.
The glorious, new, infinitely interesting pleasure of information is simply too attractive to ignore.
The first time I saw that picture I have to admit I felt a surge of shame and sadness about young people nowadays. Hypnotized by the allure of the new and novel, they seemed to be doomed to a future of always wanting the next best thing, of never being satisfied, of doing five things at once and looking for six.
But I was quickly horrified to realize I was no different. When I go to dinner with friends we always listen to music in the car…and of course I use Yelp to find the cool new restaurant with 200 five-star reviews…and naturally I’m also using Google maps so I don’t get lost…and then I’m coordinating texts with our other friends so we meet at the bowling alley later…while my friends are talking to me and showing me hilarious Instagram memes…the whole time I’m driving a 3,000lb vehicle through rush-hour traffic…
Just like my nephew I love pleasure stacking. Like we all do. Because that’s the way of the modern world.
A New Normal
One hundred and fifty years ago life was very different than 21st century America. Everything took time. Usually it took a lot of time.
Public electrical systems hadn’t been invented so power tools, appliances and other time-saving devices couldn’t save time. Towns were miles away from smaller farms and residences so access to professionals was highly limited. This meant that the process of building, crafting and maintaining were never ending. If you wanted something you had to do it yourself.
Transportation was part of the challenge. Because rapid transit didn’t exist it took time to travel from place to place. Trains were helpful if you were visiting big cities but everywhere else people used horses if they could afford them or they hoofed it. Everyone walked many miles every day. Local schools, for example, were considered walking distance if they were within five miles.
Information was hard to come by. Books existed but they were costly. Newspapers held most of the knowledge of the world, if you were lucky enough to live near a city that sold them every day. Encyclopedia volumes were very expensive and valuable. For most people, accessing information meant walking to the local library – if your town had one.
Old Fashioned Multi-Tasking
People have always done several things at once but over a century ago it was out of necessity. Most daily events actively required several people to accomplish.
For example, to make a breakfast of eggs, biscuits and butter, corn and beans with a pitcher of milk took the whole family. The beans needed to be soaked in water overnight, the biscuits needed to be mixed from flour and water, the cows had to be milked and then the cream separated and churned into butter, the eggs had to be collected from the hens, the corn had to be shucked and then everything needed to be cooked in or on the wood stove.
It would often take at least three hours collective work for a single meal.
Now in 2019 that entire meal can be prepped and served at home in less than 20 minutes – less than 10 minutes if the biscuits are pre-made and the oven is warm.
Time Saved…and Time Spent
With the advent of engines, electricity and computers, things that used to take hours now take seconds. The extra time these modern inventions have given us leaves us with heretofore unknown periods of rest and leisure.
So what have we done with all this extra time? The answer for the last several decades has been entertainment.
- We now watch more than five hours of TV every day (35 hours/week)
- About 32 million people spend an average of 2.5 hours a day playing video games (17 hours/week).
- And the total amount of time we consume media – including TV, radio, music, social media and games – adds up to an average of 10.5 hours/day (73 hours/week).
However, even in 2019 we have work to do. In addition to our 9 to 5 we still need to cook relatively healthy meals, keep the house clean, take the kids to soccer, go to church, work out and hang out with friends.
This means that in order to spend ten hours daily on radio, television, Facebook and Instagram while still doing all our normal activities we have to be consuming a large part of that media while we’re doing something else.
There’s simply not enough hours in the day to watch five hours of TV without doing something else at the same time. And that doesn’t include the other 5.5 hours of music, radio, games and social media.
It is the new normal. Every day we fill hours upon hours that our ancestors spent working with layers of pleasurable entertainment.
Pleasure Stacking: Culturally Required
But it’s not just exciting entertainment that is normal. Doubling (or tripling, or quadrupling) all kinds of pleasure has become part of our lives.
- We’re hanging out with our friends, while stalking our crushes on Instagram, while we’re texting that one really cool person we hope shows up
- We binge watch a new show and start with a few beers and a take-out burrito. Then on Episode Three we enjoy a little ice cream. Then on Episode Six we’re hungry again so we order delivery pizza and have a few more beers. Oh and then there’s the Costco bag of gummy bears…
- We go out to parties, get a good buzz going and then add a few cigarettes or our vape pen
- We look forward to an exciting event and then, like Jon Stewart’s character in Half-Baked, we get high so we can make it even better: “Yeah man, but have you ever watched Scent of a Woman…on weed?!”
- We spend time with our wives every day but we also add a little time on Pornhub
This stacking of pleasures – adding layer upon layer of exciting stimulation – is perfectly normal behavior for many modern men. Like Snoop Dogg says:
“Don’t get upset girl, that’s just how it goes / I don’t love you hoes, I’m out the do’ / And I’ll be / Rollin down the street, smoking indo, sipping on gin & juice /
Laid back (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind)”
It feels incredible in the moment but deep down we realize that we can’t keep stacking forever. Sooner or later the tower of stacked pleasures will fall – with devastating results.
We know this. We know we’re eating too much, drinking too often, throwing ourselves out of balance and running deep into the red. So why do we do it anyway?
Why We Pleasure Stack
There’s a great song by Guns and Roses called Mr. Brownstone that talks about why we love to have just a little more pleasure.
So why do we do keep on trying to feel a little better than before? There are five main reasons we’re driven to the next level of excitement.
1. We’re Just Doing What Everyone Else Is Doing
In the modern world pleasure stacking is so normal that it’s easy to get sucked up into the crowd. If the guys you drink with always have a few beers at each of your three favorite bars, the odds are very good you will too. If your loving wife cooks you fresh lasagna with garlic bread and cheesecake every weekend, you’re probably going to eat it. And if your best friends play online video games for three hours every night (and more on weekends), you’re probably going to be spending 100 hours a month on gaming.
Now we need to point out that great beer, Italian food and video games are all awesome. But if our close friends and family aren’t setting limits on their behavior, we often aren’t either.
2. We’re Bored Without It
“You must push everything to the absolute limit or else life will be boring. People will be boring.”~ Dario Argento
Dario Argento, the famous Italian suspense filmmaker, shares the same beliefs as many of the current generation of thinkers. If it’s going to be worthwhile, it’s gotta be edgy. Things need to be faster, more exciting, more dangerous, bloodier, sexier and scarier.
But if we’re always living on the edge, if our go-to emotional state is adrenaline, how can we ever relax? How can we ever be at peace? How are we going to find happiness if nothing is ever enough?
3. We’re Trying To Ignore our Negative Thoughts
Many of us were not raised with stellar parents, teachers and mentors. We grew up watching the people around model dysfunctional communication, negativity, anger, repression and sometimes outright cruelty. As a result our heads were filled with damaging self-talk, low self-esteem and generally stressful thoughts on an ongoing basis.
Fast forward a few decades and for many of us nothing has changed. Even though we’re adults, unless we’ve make the choice to get some therapy (either from self-help or from professionals) that self-talk hasn’t improved. If we’ve been telling ourselves we’re fat, ugly and stupid for twenty years, those neuronal pathways have become hardcore mental habits.
Unfortunately, just like a dealer on the street corner, pleasure stacking is always there to “hook us up.”
If we keep enough enjoyable sensations happening on a regular basis we won’t have to think about the problems in our lives. If we get that nice hit of sugar every couple hours, if we keep that caffeine level high enough, if we watch a few new porn clips, if we grab a few beers from the fridge every night, if we hang out with exciting but low integrity people…it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as we get a steady drip of pleasure we don’t have to think about the shitty things that are going on in our lives.
And if we can keep that stimulation very high we don’t have to look at the problems with ourselves – the serious kinds of issues that will require a major life change to fix.
4. We’re Avoiding or Masking our Pain
Nobody wants to get rejected by their girlfriend for sex. Nobody wants to get fired. Nobody wants to hurt their lower back. It could be embarrassment, rejection, loneliness, fear or even a basic lack of joy. It doesn’t matter what it is, nobody wants to feel pain.
But pain is important for us to feel. It’s a signal that something needs to change. It’s the most direct way that our bodies and mind can communicate with us.
If we get rejected for sex it’s a sign that we need to become more attractive to our girlfriend. If our back is hurting it means we’re not doing our stretching and we’re not doing our core exercises. And if we get fired from our job it means that we haven’t been performing at high level.
When we mask pain with pleasure we will never be able to change.
5. We’re Addicted To It
Elvis Presley. Jimi Hendrix. John Belushi. Prince. Scott Weiland. Philip Seymour Hoffman. John Candy. Heath Ledger. Michael Jackson.
The tragic deaths of these beloved men are just a handful of examples of what happens if pleasure seeking isn’t stopped.
Unless we are willing to stand up and break the cycle, the need to continually have more and greater stimulation will eventually ruin us.
Unhealthy Social Pressure + Boredom + Running from Our Thoughts + Masking pain + Time = Chronic, Crippling Addiction
A Newer, Better Normal
Are you addicted to pleasure stacking? Are you struggling to find joy or satisfaction in your life? Are you living too close to the edge?
Thankfully there is hope! Just like with any change, the first step is to recognize there is a problem. If you are ready and willing to put in the work there is ALWAYS a way to turn things around. Make sure to watch your inbox for Part Two of this series, coming soon. In that article we’ll be covering many powerful strategies to help you reign in your uncontrolled desires, rebalance your emotions and start enjoying the little things. If you’re not already subscribed to our newsletter, click here to sign up for our excellent, free weekly content!
Note: Some of you may be struggling with severe addiction, depression or even suicidal thoughts. If this is you, please visit Addictionresource.com and call one of these hotlines today. They are all free and someone will be available for you 24/7. Don’t wait another second to get control of your own life and your own happiness.
Until next time, Stay Superior!