Pleasure & Happiness

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

In his book series “Ethics of the Fathers” (Amazon), Rabbi Israel Chait explained human development. As children, we direct 100% of our energies when at play. This energy is fully expended, producing “happiness.”  Conversely, “frustration” is the state when one—child or adult—cannot expend all his or her energy. But fully expressed energies produce complete happiness. We witness children fully absorbed in their play and imagination. Their intensity in play is the barometer of their degree of satisfaction.

But God designed man that, as he matures, his energies become frustrated with infantile pleasures. God desires man to redirect his energies towards the world of wisdom, which obviously cannot occur in infancy. But as the mind develops, this becomes possible. Had God allowed man’s energies throughout life to find complete satisfaction in physical pursuits, man would never leave the world of physical enjoyments. He would be as an animal, finding play, rest and eating fully satisfying. He would have no motivation to look past sensual pleasures and discover wisdom. Thus, this planned frustration with sensual pleasures intends to direct man towards the greater experience of pondering God’s wisdom that permeates the human design and condition, the universe, and Torah. Even greater energies can immerse in the world of the mind—as is God’s plan—where man finds the greatest happiness. The great philosophers agree. 

But if an adult does not redirect his attention towards the world of wisdom, and instead, continues his pursuit for pleasure in sensual experiences, he remains frustrated. Foolish man constantly seeks the next business deal, the newer car or the larger home to attain happiness…which never arrives, or dwindles quickly. Man was not designed to find happiness in the physical world, but in the world of wisdom. Adam the First spent his time engaged in science, in zoology. And the greatest minds taught that man is most happy when he pursues wisdom. Its is wise that we follow those content thinkers, and not follow lesser unhappy minds chasing fantasy.

It is curious: Can we explain this dynamic of frustration, where man cannot find new “adult” physical pleasures equally enjoyable as infant pleasures?

When pleasure is first experienced, this marks the psyche with “models” of pleasure: man identifies these unique infantile experiences as the raw original definitions of “pleasure.” Man cannot replace these definitions as an adult, nor does he want to, as he truly found complete pleasure in youth. Youthful pleasures are man’s definitions of pleasure. And once the mind defines pleasure, it remains with these models as definitions. 

The adult carries these imprinted pleasurable memories, and will seek to return to that state of 100% pleasure. But an adult can no longer achieve pleasure through infantile experiences of playing with toys. He then seeks pleasure from replacement objects and activities. But replacements, by definition, are not the original, and fall short of infantile pleasure, thereby producing dissatisfaction. 

This explains why new models of physical pleasure cannot be created in the physical realm: “pleasure” has already been indelibly defined during youth. Similarly, Sigmund Freud’s oedipal and electra complexes refer to the child’s unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and, and removal of the parent of the same sex. As the child develops, this desire is repressed, but emerges later in teenage, now seeking a partner who somehow resembles the parent. The partner is a replacement. We see that in many areas, sensual satisfaction finds frustration in youth, and later seeks replacements in adulthood. 

But man’s ultimate pleasure can only be derived from engaging his intellect. God designed man that in wisdom, one’s energies find complete expenditure which translates to complete happiness.