A pleasure diversion can improve your life. Are you rejecting things that feel good?

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I Dream of Jeannie (and pleasure)

The opposite of pleasure is control.

Think about it. In order to experience something pleasurable, no matter what it is, you really need to let go. You need to relax into it.

Pleasure is not easy for people who tend to be ‘pleasure avoiders.’

We are taught that resisting pleasure gives us control over our more animal urges. We want the cookie, we love eating cookies, cookies give us pleasure. But resisting the cookie means we have control, we can resist our temptations, we are on top of things.

Being out of control can be scary. If we followed our pleasure every moment of every day, we might be pathological, right? Or we could eat cookies all day. But wait — what if pleasure was the goal at every moment? Can you find pleasure in what you are doing now, sitting at your desk, reading a blog? Can you eat one cookie, without guilt, and totally enjoy it?

If you can’t wrap your mind around a pleasure directed life, you’re not alone. Americans used to take an average of 20 vacation days a year. In 2000 the numbers fell to 16 days a year. That means most of us work 354 days every year.

We need to pursue leisure, travel, relaxation and rest to stay healthy. And it improves our relationships. And it makes us more productive in the long run.

found that not taking at least one week off per year was actually a high risk behavior. Adult men are 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease if they don’t take time for pleasurable activities, a break from responsibilities.

, MD, a holistic cardiologist , told Fox News recently, “There’s also lack of mental focus and clarity, and increased depression associated with not vacationing,” she said.

Some non-vacationers actually suffer from something more serious than pleasure avoidance, they may be pleasure resistant. When pleasure is initiated by someone else, they find that they are triggered and an old narrative takes over. This might be a story about pleasure that was connected to a painful history, guilt, shame or abuse. Rejecting pleasure may actually give them a feeling of control, to rewrite the story in their bodies and their minds. This control can be temporarily rewarding, but eventually leads to rigidity.

Rigidity and pleasure don’t go together well, unless of course you are thinking of sex (I know what you are thinking). To have pleasure in sex we need a balance of rigidity and fluidity. Finding a balance means you can be flexible. Flexibility helps you to enjoy being in the moment, have healthy boundaries and being totally in the moment and experiencing the sensations allows us to respond.

So…what are you avoiding that could be giving you pleasure in your life? First, make a list of the five things that give you pleasure. For example, spending time with family, dancing, swimming, eating a delicious meal, and kissing your partner. When you look at your list, what is it that gives you pleasure and that you have been avoiding because you feel like you should be doing other things?

Make time this week to notice what you are avoiding, and what you are rejecting. And then find time for pleasure. Go ahead. Let go of the ‘should’ and pursue a pleasure directed and fulfilled life.

And take a vacation. It makes you healthier and happier.

Tammy Nelson PhD is a Certified Sex and Couples Therapist, a TEDx speaker and host of The Trouble with Sex podcast. She is the author of The New Monogamy.

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