Good isn’t always pleasant.
Our minds love to marinate in the pleasant, addicted as they are to short-term gratifications. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t find calorie-dense food irresistible, a proportion of us wouldn’t cheat in marriage, and a search for tax evasion or corporate fraud on the Internet would produce zero links. The pleasant served by sensory experiences alone, however, is hollow. Pleasantness bereft of goodness is as nourishing as a bowl of sugar. It can’t provide lasting fulfillment. The pleasant provides lasting pleasure only when flavored with the good.
Based on whether they are pleasant and/or good, life’s experiences can be divided into four categories:
• Good and pleasant;
• Good and unpleasant;
• Not-good and pleasant;
• Not-good and unpleasant.
Most of us easily avoid the not-good that is unpleasant (e.g., mosquito bites) and seek the good that is pleasant (e.g., quality time with loved ones).
The real struggle is embracing the good that can be unpleasant (e.g., exercise, paying taxes) while avoiding the pleasant that is not so good (e.g., calorie-dense food). This is a tall order for the mind that struggles with distracted attention, willpower depletion, and the allure of supernormal, irresistible sensory stimuli in the present world that would have totally floored the kings of the yesteryears.
Before asking ourselves to pursue the good, we should first define what we mean by good. There isn’t a single definition. Good is what we pursue to realize our highest potential. Good helps us create a world where our children can thrive. Good is collective and prosocial. Good is patient. Good gives out compassion. Good is powered by gratitude. Good serves a meaning higher than itself.
I need freedom from my mind’s predispositions—its fears, selfishness, and sensory cravings—so I can sample the good. I need freedom so my mind can dig deeper and hear the voice of the conscience. I surrender to the reality—that my mind is ignorant. In that surrender I find hope. I see the light coming from the invisible past. I see philosophers, scientists, poets, seekers, and patriotic citizens who threaded the path of the good, happily sacrificing the pleasant. Here is what I hear them say:
If you want to pursue the good—
• Do what is right for the planet’s children.
• Live a value- and meaning-driven life.
• Think of others as you think about yourself.
• Do what is right for the country.
• Be kind.
• Be humble and gentle.
I must tether my mind to one of these ideas if I hope to resist my mind’s temptations. The one I like the most today is, “Do what is right for the planet’s children.” I have found most of my conflicts melt away when I subject my cravings or indecisions to this question.
I should intentionally seek the good until it becomes innate to me. And if I do that with all my sincerity, I might leave a trail for the unborn, who will wake up one day determined to barter the pleasant for the good.
May you find the pleasant in the good; may you find the good in the prosocial.
@AmitSoodMD (on Twitter)