Hedonism or Not

Question on Quora:

What is wrong with being a hedonist?

Being a hedonist is not necessarily “wrong,” but neither is hedonism an adequate philosophy of life for people who seek tranquility as a goal in living. However, personal choice of lifestyle aside, the idea of hedonism by itself can still be problematic for two reasons:

First, the paradox of hedonism makes hedonism literally a self-defeating philosophy of life to live by: We will likely fail to attain true pleasures if we deliberately seek them. For example, which of the following efforts would bring us a more profound pleasure?

  • I seek pleasure, therefore I help others.
  • I help others, therefore I attain pleasure.

Pleasure seems to be best treated as a byproduct of other goals we commit ourselves to in life, not the other way around.

Then, there is the problem of hedonic adaptation, a term coined by the psychologists Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein. The truth is: The pursuit of pleasure can be hopelessly consuming because we human are designed to adapt. The pleasure of winning a lottery, buying a new car, or even meeting the man or woman of our dream does not last forever. Worse yet, we adapt to our fulfilled desires and eventually stop finding them as desirable as they once were. As a result, in order to experience the same level of pleasure we have once attained, we now need to seek new desires with higher intensity—a greater wealth, a more luxurious car, and for some… a new relationship or even a new marriage. Contrary to our intention, the pursuit of pleasure has become a vicious cycle that consumes our life in a rather undesirable way.

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