Why a hedonistic lifestyle is not sustainable

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Kevin Mangelschots

It’s easy to consider pleasure seeking behavior as a viable and enjoyable alternative way of living. Yet, I’ll argue today that a hedonistic lifestyle is not sustainable.

It’s often the case that we don’t like performing the more mundane tasks and chores, or performing activities we don’t necessarily enjoy like working out, trying to stay in shape, or watching our weight.

And while acting upon, and satisfying every impulse and desire might seem pleasurable at first, it would soon start to lose its appeal.

Why a hedonistic lifestyle is not a viable long-term strategy

The word “why” written multiple times on a blue background with question marks surrounding it.

  • Life is suffering

    One of the problems with living hedonistically is that life is inherently painful and tragic, since we will all perish in the end.

    People suffer during their short lifetimes. We get sick, loved ones get unwell and die. And we will all cease to exist eventually.

    Despite all this, it’s not all bad and painful experiences, of course. Because we know that pain and challenge lead to growth. But, knowing that suffering is a part of life counters the notion that our existence should only be fun and pleasurable while avoiding painful experiences at the same time.

    Except there’s no way to avoid all these agonizing events. Sooner or later, we will all become the victim of negative and aching circumstances. That’s why we need to learn how to embrace the pain of life.

    And if you currently haven’t encountered severe painful occurrences yet, consider yourself lucky and value what you have at the moment. Because the good things don’t last forever.

  • Pleasure would lose its value

     

    Illustration of a balance scale with “quality” ending up as heavier and, thus, more important than “quantity”.

    There can be no good without the bad. Likewise, there can be no pleasure without performing the boring, mundane activities.

    The aim should be for gratifying and less fun activities balancing each other out.

    Furthermore, to reach goals that are important to us, we will probably have to do some boring things that aren’t particularly exciting.

  • It would become “normal” after a while

    Picture of multicolored parrots.

    Something that’s too common will start to lose its value. While uncommon/rare objects will increase in value.

    This means that only participating in fun and breathtaking activities will start to feel normal and not like something special anymore. It would thus start losing its normally associated value.

    That’s why fun events should be performed and enjoyed sporadically, but should not be pursued every waking moment during one’s life. A balance should be struck to live a content existence.

  • Bad for your health in the long-term

    One of the other problems with hedonism is that it’s bad for your physical, and mental health in the long run.

    While it might seem fun to drink, party, and whatever you so desire or deem to be pleasurable, living hedonistically is not a viable enduring strategy.

    There’s simply no way for your body to sustain all that punishment you’re putting your body through.

    To maintain a healthy mind and body, we will have to do some things we don’t find particularly enjoyable and glamorous. There’s simply no getting around this fact.

  • Balance is needed in life

    A Yin and Yang symbol, lying on the sand.

    Yin and yang didn’t come into existence without a specific purpose.

    Its purpose is to explain how, and why, to live a harmonious life, and to show us how every one of us has both positive and negative personality traits.

    You can’t live healthily and effectively without some kind of structure. You absolutely need some kind of consistency to help you predict what’s going to happen in the future. That’s one of the reasons why routines exist.

    Fun activities will always have to be matched with some boring and unfun activities in order to stay in condition.

  • You can’t always act upon impulses and desires

    If you’re always going to act upon all the impulses and desires that flow through your mind, then you’re going to have a bad time. And not just in the time to come, but in the present as well. That’s why all of us need to learn how to delay gratification.

    We humans don’t have a brain that inhibits a lot of our behavior for nothing. So it’s in our own best interest to make use of this brain function and to apply it intelligently.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is hedonism?

The philosophy behind hedonism can be defined as a school of thought that actively searches out pleasure while simultaneously actively avoiding painful experiences and boredom. 

Living a hedonistic lifestyle means seeking pleasure and avoiding painful experiences. These are the only two components of a person’s wellbeing in hedonism’s school of thought.

Why is living hedonistically such an attractive alternative way of living?

A group of people drinking multiple different alcoholic beverages together.

  • We don’t like negative, painful experiences

    As a result of disliking painful experiences, we naturally try to avoid them as much as possible.

    Add in the fact that an important function of a mature brain is inhibiting our impulses. And it does this for very good reasons.

    If we happened to act on every impulse and desire that crosses our mind, then awful things would come to fruition.

  • Not all people are good at inhibiting their impulses

    Not everyone is good at inhibiting their impulses.

    This is true for people who never learned to inhibit their impulses by applying discipline and perseverance. Especially younger people have a hard time not instantly satisfying their desires since their brain is not fully matured yet.

    For these types of folks, hedonism probably sounds like the perfect way of living.

  • It’s fun to satisfy our impulses and desires

    Image of a cat with a smile and teeth painted on a piece of paper in front of the cat's face.

    In the short term, it’s extremely pleasurable to satisfy all of our desires and impulses. In hedonism’s school of pleasure, we can call this hedonistic joy.

    However, if we would satisfy and act upon every single desire and impulse, then problems would soon start to arise. We need to learn to delay gratification if we want to achieve anything of value, and want to remain healthy as we age.

  • It’s an easy way of living

    At first glance, who doesn’t want to do all the pleasant things in life while simultaneously avoiding all painful and negative experiences?

    It’s only when we delve deeper into the topic that we realize that this is not a sustainable way of living, and will cause issues sooner or later.

    We humans will always try to take the easy road to prevent spending unnecessary energy.

    But that doesn’t always mean that the easy way is necessarily the best road to take. As a matter of fact, we often learn more from the more challenging manner. That’s thanks to the often accompanying failures and resistance we encounter, forcing us to learn and work harder.

4 Different types of hedonism

Image of two photo frames saying, “smile more” and “worry less.”

There are 4 main types of hedonism:

  1. Psychological hedonism
  2. Aesthetic hedonism
  3. Ethical hedonism
  4. Axiological hedonism

Psychological hedonism

Psychological hedonism is also commonly called motivational hedonism.

It believes that all our actions are performed with the goal of seeking pleasure while attempting to avoid pain at the same time.

This is typically what we call an egoistical person, since they’re only aiming at their own happiness while disregarding the feelings and emotional state of those around them.

Aesthetic hedonism

Image of a spring blossom painting.

Aesthetic hedonism involves seeking out things that are considered beautiful, and aesthetically valuable. These pretty things are inherently thought of to be accompanied by pleasure.

For example, an amazing landscape is considered enjoyable since it’s visually pleasing.

Ethical hedonism

Illustration of a black weighing scale with an “X” on the left indicating it's bad, and a “V” on the right indicating it to be good.

A synonym to ethical hedonism is normative hedonism. It states that you should consider what brings you joy, while at the same time reducing pain, in order to find what activities are right.

It differentiates itself from psychological hedonism by being a form of consequentialism. The rightness of an action is determined by the consequences of that behavior. These outcomes in turn are measured by the amount of pain and pleasure they bring.

Thus, an action is deemed right when it brings more pleasure than it does pain.

Axiological hedonism

Axiological hedonism is often called value hedonism or evaluative hedonism.

It goes by the notion that only joy has intrinsic value.

It distinguishes between intrinsic and instrumental value. Intrinsic value can be described as being good for its own sake, or being good in itself. Instrumental value is when things are valuable as a means to an end. To get something else that is considered worthful.

Is hedonism bad?

Illustration of a man scratching their head while holding a yellow question mark.
 
Whether hedonism is bad or not depends on the way you measure good and bad. But I typically consider it to be negative in the long run.
 
While it can give you pleasure and bring happiness for a brief time, it’ll lead to emptiness and purposeless in time. Not to mention that it isn’t sustainable for long because it is so physically unhealthy to live that way.
 

I personally believe that abundance is rarely good. Foregoing everything that’s considered dull and serious for immediate gratification of the senses leans too much to addiction for my liking. It would soon lose its value and meaning as well. Because something that’s too common typically doesn’t stay precious for long.

What does a hedonistic lifestyle mean?

A hedonistic lifestyle means being content not making progress, and solely doing things for your own pleasure while simultaneously avoiding, or minimizing pain.

Hedonistic lifestyle examples

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

Example 1

Our first example is Eric.

Eric is kind of lazy. After he’s done working, he likes to drink at least a six-pack of beer every single day, but sometimes even more. He believes that life is too short to live a dull existence. And as a result, he gets wasted every weekend. Sometimes during the week too if he feels like it.

Obviously, this will inevitably lead to issues in the future, since this kind of heavy drinking is not sustainable at all.

Example 2

Meet Jolien. She enjoys eating a lot of admittedly delicious fast food. She doesn’t like cooking, which means she often turns to eating unhealthy meals that are easily prepared.

Likewise, she also refrains from exercising because it’s hard work, and since it requires a lot of discipline and energy. That’s why she considers it to be nothing but a waste of time, since everyone dies eventually, so why not live your best life? Due to this lifestyle, she’s gotten severely overweight, all the while continuing to gain weight each year.

Being this heavy, and eating that unhealthy, causes a lot of strain on the body, particularly the organs. Thus, this will cause problems sooner rather than later.

What’s the opposite of a hedonistic lifestyle?

The opposite of a hedonistic lifestyle, which means the satisfaction of your pleasure seeking arousal and faculties, is asceticism, being cold, unloving, and spartan.

Asceticism is an extreme form of self-control, and aims to stave off all forms of self-indulgence. Asceticism is usually practiced for religious causes.

Thus, these can all be considered antonyms of hedonism.

Conclusion

Image of a hand holding a card with the word “conclusions” written in blue.

A hedonistic view of the world might seem like a perfectly reasonable and well-thought-out way of living at first glance.

And while this can certainly be the case for a short while, it’s still a poor strategy to employ for your future wellbeing.

Like is the case with everything in life, balance is key. How would we define pleasurable activities if we only chase the fun, exciting activities and events? Over time, even the previously pleasurable events would lose their appeal and value if we solely live hedonistically.

Life is simply put too complex to live for mere joy. Try to balance the gratifying and less enjoyable events in order to live a fulfilling, yet enjoyable existence.