Plentiful Pleasure Equals Vibrant Health – What Lights You Up?

By Christiane Northrup, M.D.

“Deliberately pursue Pleasure”

Listen Closely. I want to let you in on a big and very well kept health secret. Ready? Here it is. The active and deliberate pursuit of pleasure—and the ability to receive it—are essential ingredients in creating and maintaining optimal health. Please read that again. And take a moment to remember the last time you really soaked in something pleasurable.

I know, I know. You think you’re too busy to experience pleasure. Or maybe the thought of pursuing pleasure as an important goal makes you feel guilty. (The term guilty pleasure comes to mind immediately, right?) Here’s the deal: Most of us were brought up to believe the “no pain, no gain” theory of health. Me, too. It’s ingrained in our culture. Last year I went to a Blue Angels air show at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. A Marine walked by me with the following message emblazoned on his T-shirt: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” The subtext of this sentiment is that anything pleasurable is suspect and probably won’t get you anywhere. The “no pain, no gain” approach has its place. We are all capable of far more than we think we are. And there’s nothing like a crisis to bring out the best in human nature. We all remember the teacher who refused to accept less than our best and therefore helped bring it out of us.

“Maintain a balance”

But there has to be a balance. Too much “no pain, no gain” without the much-needed presence of pleasure is a setup for disease and addiction—pure and simple. Here’s why: We are pleasure-seeking creatures by Divine design. Just watch a bunch of little kids playing and you’ll see the truth of this. Our organs work better when we’re happily pursuing pleasurable activities—or thinking pleasurable thoughts. Pleasure is not only associated with better blood flow throughout the body, it’s also associated with higher levels of the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin—a naturally occurring morphine-like substance that dulls pain and induces a feeling of euphoria. Prolactin is another neurotransmitter that is also associated with pleasure. Like beta-endorphin, this natural substance is enhanced during pleasurable social interactions, while breastfeeding, and also during lovemaking.

“Include regular doses of pleasure in your day-to-day life”

When we follow a stressful lifestyle that’s devoid of regular pleasure, blood flow gets restricted throughout the brain and body—and our beta-endorphin and other neurotransmitter levels plummet. We’re left feeling depressed, sad, angry, or irritable as a result. So what do we do to get those levels back up fast? We reach for the quick fix of sugar, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, or drugs. (And we justify this behavior by telling ourselves we “deserve” that hot fudge sundae because we’ve worked so hard.) Imbibing the sugar, or alcohol, or nicotine does make us feel better for a short time by balancing our brain chemistry. The problem is that over time, the body requires more and more of these substances to give us the same “high.” And that’s how addiction and disease begins. The bottom line is this: You cannot create the healthy sustainable beta-endorphin and blood flow levels that are associated with optimal health solely by taking mood-altering substances. The only way to achieve a feeling of optimal well-being within your body is by including regular doses of pleasure in your day-to-day life!

Here’s my step-by-step program to enhance your health through pleasure:

Step One: Make a commitment to your pleasure

Understand that all sustainable pleasure requires discipline, courage, and practice. Why? Because we live in a pleasure-starved culture that worships pain and suffering. Some people even believe that suffering is holy. And nearly every one of us has been led to believe that suffering and martyrdom actually buys us something—that somehow it makes us better people. No one leaves our planet without some pain and suffering. That’s for sure. But making pain and suffering a way of life—and being proud of it—does nothing but cause more pain and suffering. This has been called indulging in “negative pleasure.” Here’s an example: Have you ever worked in a job where everyone brags about how much work they have to do or how busy they are? Have you ever found yourself trying to “up” the ante of suffering by saying something like “You think you’ve got it bad? Listen to what happened to me. Last week my car broke down, I had to walk to work, and I still put in 12 hours?” If you want more happiness and enjoyment in your life, you have to catch yourself indulging in “negative pleasure” and stop.

Step Two: Name your bliss and follow it

To know sustainable pleasure, you must know what you desire—what lights you up! And you must also learn to trust those desires. I believe that our souls speak to us through our desires, and that we discover our unique gifts and talents only by allowing ourselves to follow our bliss. After all, desire is what created our bodies in the first place. We were conceived with an orgasm—the entire universe started with a big bang.
Articulating your specific desires and then manifesting them uplifts the entire planet. Get as specific as possible. Make a list. Do you like sexy, red underwear? Then go get some. And wear it regularly. Do you like to begin your morning quietly with a cup of coffee and a little inspirational reading? Then get up five minutes earlier to indulge in this pleasure. Do you love massage? Make sure you get a massage at least once a month. And if you can’t afford it, exchange a back rub or foot rub with your spouse or a good friend on a regular basis. To add more pleasure to your life, write down a list of your desires. Have fun thinking about everything you like.

In his wonderful book The Power of Pleasure (Hay House, 2007), Dr. Douglas Weiss points out that everyone has a unique pleasure blueprint—a specific way in which they experience pleasure. For some, pleasure comes through thrill seeking. They adore fast cars and extreme sports. Life just isn’t fun without indulging this pleasure zone regularly. For others, gardening and digging in dirt is a primary pleasure zone. Others experience pleasure through service.

One of my primary pleasure zones is taking a hot bath each evening. Whenever I travel, I insist on staying in a place that has a tub. I also love going to movies in theaters where I can get lost in the experience (and I’m not distracted by the phone or the lure of “multi-tasking,” which happens when I watch movies at home).

Step Three: Schedule pleasure into your life with the same regularity as you would brushing your teeth

Married couples who hire a babysitter and have regular “dates” each week, for example, find far more joy and pleasure in their relationship than couples who don’t take the time to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company.

Step Four: Pleasure begins with your thoughts. Pay attention to them

Change the ones that aren’t pleasurable the minute you notice them. (Remember, this is a discipline that takes practice.) Here’s why this is so important. Thought plus emotion equals belief. Your beliefs are what create your reality and your state of health. Beliefs, which are felt primarily in the heart, transmute the invisible realm of spirit into the particles that make up matter.

Every thought you think creates a specific biochemical reaction in your body and also attracts specific events into your life. And guess what? When human DNA (that’s been isolated) is in the presence of positive emotions it begins to relax and unwind. Then it begins to create another molecule that is, itself, conceived in pleasure, appreciation, and love.

Try out this thought: “I am a highly desirable, sexy woman.”

How does that thought feel in your body? Good, right?

Now contrast how that feels with this thought: “I am a middle-aged woman whose best years are behind her. It’s too late for me to feel sexy or happy.”

Which thought is associated with better blood flow and more “feel good” chemicals? I’m sure you know it’s the first.

Your power to live a pleasurable, prosperous life lies in your willingness to focus your attention on thoughts, people, places, and events that are joyful, fun, sexy, and uplifting.

Step Five: Expect resistance.

The minute you decide to bring more pleasure and joy into your life, resistance will show up. Expect this. It’s a good sign!

When grief or sadness shows up, feel them for a bit and then do something pleasurable. Call a friend, watch a good movie, or get out and take a walk. You want to do something to move energy, something that feels better.

To create more pleasure in your life, you actually have to feel pleasure of some kind. Stop right now. Caress your hand with your other hand in a way that feels pleasurable. There. You’ve done it. You’ve created pleasure. Now do your feet. If you want to take it higher, put on some great music and dance around the room. That automatically increases pleasure—and also helps prevent cardiovascular disease and can burn fat!
Grieve your losses and let go regularly. You have to feel it to heal it. Every loss that isn’t grieved fully stays with us. Time doesn’t heal these losses. They wait for us to feel them and release them. We don’t get over them until we really grieve.

Anger is often a cover-up for loss and grief. It’s easier to be angry with someone or at someone than to feel sadness.

When we really grieve, forgive, and let go, we begin to recover who we really are. And then the miracle happens: more light comes into our lives than we could ever have imagined before. And we’re able to feel even more pleasure.

Step Six: Spread pleasure around and you’ll receive even more.

One of the most meaningful and Divinely pleasurable things I’ve done in the past year is both teach at and participate in Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts in New York City. My daughters have joined me in this transformational work, which my sister-in-law calls “personal growth on steroids for women.” Mama Gena (aka Regena Thomashauer) has created a curriculum that teaches women how to use pleasure to transform the world. We all know the old adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, the opposite is also true. When women are happy, everyone is uplifted and happy!

One of the core concepts of the School of Womanly Arts is the amazing power of women to uplift and approve of each other. (You won’t find any backbiting or jealous put-downs there.) As a result of my experiences at Mama Gena’s, I now realize the incredible value of openly appreciating another woman (or man). So when I see something about a woman (or man) that is pleasing to me—I tell them! If I see a woman waiting in line or walking down the street and her dress or her hair or her jewelry is pleasing to me, I let her know. I make every effort to reward beauty and pleasure wherever I see it, because I know what I pay attention to expands. The same goes for men and children. The more pleasure you spread around, the more you feel yourself.

Here’s my final advice on pleasure: You were issued one body when you were conceived. It’s your duty to attend to this particular portion of living matter in a way that uplifts, celebrates, and comforts it. But it’s not your job to figure out how to do this for anyone except yourself. What a relief! Now can’t you just feel your beta-endorphin levels rising—and your blood flow increasing just from that thought alone?

When you take care of yourself with pleasure, your influence creates a standing wave of joy and pleasure that goes out from you and affects all living things on this planet. The world is depending upon your happiness, your joy, your pleasure. You have nothing to lose by following your bliss except your suffering. And when your own suffering decreases, the suffering of the whole world lessens. You’ll probably lose a few extra pounds, too!

This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 
All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.

© Christiane Northrup, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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  • Michael

    My new ladyfriend Gail. She makes me feel young again & want to do and see new things.

  • rose

    I really enjoyed this blog entry. But I have a question on how to practice Step 4: Pleasure begins with your thoughts. Pay attention to them.

    I'm aware my negative thinking patterns are one of my biggest obstacles to self-love and happiness. And though I've heard this piece of advice from countless healers, I can't help but feel it's a bit pollyanna-ish. For example, I've been working on overcoming a panic disorder for the last year, which has meant taking time off from my career and living solely on unemployment benefits. It's hard not to feel like my struggle with anxiety and depression has stolen my life from me. When my therapist tells me I need to shift from thinking of myself as a loser to a winner, I feel confused and like it's my own fault for not being happy. Telling myself I'm a winner when deep down I don't feel like one isn't helpful for me. It feels forced and untrue, and often makes me feel worse because it's not effective.

    I guess my question is, how do you replace negative thoughs with positive ones if you don't feel like the positive ones are really true? Are there stages one has to go through before they can get to a place where this positive thinking is possible?

  • Betty

    Hi Rose: I just stumbled upon your comment. If you haven't read it I suggest you check out this book by Norman Doidge called “The Brain that Changes Itself”. Perhaps you may benefit from Neuroplasticity therapy?

    Also, one thing I have learned from my own healing is to face my feelings. I kept asking myself WHY I felt negative. When I finally got down to the very root of the issue then I asked HOW can I resolve it. Simply stop thinking negative or replacing it with a positive thought only suppresses it, allowing it to brew into something bigger and more destructive.

    Hope these helps.

  • rose

    Thanks Betty. This is very helpful advice.

  • Bettyng1999

    You are welcome, Rose. I also got very tired of “healers” telling me that my problem was that I wasn't thinking positive. Rather than giving me the “how to” they were simply labeling the obvious and aggravating me. In fact, I blog about that frustration (and my healing journey), if you are ever interested.

    Best of luck.