The ‘Ten Commandments’ of Character Development, Number Five: Live for More Than the Pursuit of Pleasure

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Dr Simon’s series continues with the fifth of ‘ten commandments’ of character development: living for more than the pursuit of pleasure.

I’ve been posting a series of articles on what I call the “Ten Commandments of Character.” In my upcoming book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), I discuss the essential values and principles to which a person must commit in order to develop a personality marked by strength, integrity, and responsibility.

Prior posts have addressed the need to view oneself not as the center of the universe, but rather as a part of a much bigger reality, and to be very mindful of the impact we have on others and the world around us; the need to avoid developing a sense of entitlement by striving to be grateful for all we’ve been given; and the importance of developing a healthy and balanced sense of self-worth. My last post discussed the importance of honesty — not only in dealings with others but also, and perhaps most importantly, with oneself.

Now we come to the fifth commandment. It addresses perhaps the single most important principle for healthy psychological functioning: subjugating our hard-wired thirst for pleasure to the great cause of life itself. To quote from my new book:

Be the master of your appetites and dislikes. You were meant to survive and prosper but you were never meant to be pampered or indulged. Your ability to experience pleasure and pain is meant to help guide you through life, not govern your life. And taking pleasure for its own sake is almost always a pathway to destruction. Avoid greed and excess. Be willing to endure necessary discomfort. Sometimes, one has to embrace hardship in order to grow and love.

There are two great drives within us all: the pleasure-seeking drive, and the drive to thrive (i.e. to live and prosper). We are born aligned with the pleasure principle, and the vast majority of us remain aligned with it for most if not all of our lives. We leave the comfort of the womb in fear of life until we get our first taste of pleasure and then live in fear of death unless our pain becomes too great. But we have the power to subordinate our desire to pleasure ourselves to the advancement of life. And that is the noble cause to which we are all called.

No man can serve two masters. One of these drives must always be subordinate to the other. The unbridled pursuit of pleasure for its own sake (hedonism) is always the pathway to psychological ill-health and spiritual death. Most of us need to be reborn in spirit or to remake our lives on a different operating principle. Cherishing and advancing life and putting that quest above what might or might not please us is the mark of genuine character.

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In all my years of counseling individuals with character-related problems, perhaps nothing has impressed me more than how debased and tragic a life can become when a person has become a slave to their desires. The character-disturbed person “chases highs” with a passion, always looking for the next “turn on,” and nothing ever seems to be enough to satisfy. And when pain or loss enters their lives, they can become angry and bitter, empty, or depressed. But this is the age of rampant hedonism and narcissism. Excess is the norm. It’s harder than ever for people even to recognize the value of controlling their appetites, let alone commit themselves to doing so. Yet, making the choice to live life on a very different principle from that with which we are aligned from birth is the necessary first step toward an emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually healthy existence.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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