Pleasure is the emotional equivalent of eating a huge ice cream sundae. It’s indulgent, freeing, makes you feel all tingly inside. It’s doing something purely for the sake of feeling happy, for you and you alone.
So what makes me truly happy? When pondering this question, it surprised me that it was photography that first sprung to mind. I’m not a great photographer – in fact, I’m pretty mediocre. I don’t have a fancy camera or any idea about technicalities or lighting. But I take photos almost every day. I have thousands of photos on my phone: brightly-coloured flashes of friendships and travels and little moments captured from an average day. Looking at them always makes me smile.
To be honest, I thought I would say it was writing that brings me joy, not photography. I’m supposed to be a writer. Everyone tells me so. But when I think about writing, my stomach knots up with tension; with taking photos, I feel light as air. Why is that?
When I was a child, I used to write stories just for fun. I’d sit at my desk at school during lunch breaks and happily compose stories about goblins and fairies, for no reason other than I wanted to. I just liked writing stories. And since I was a child, I’ve been told I should be a writer. Teachers, parents, friends…everyone around me says that I should write a book, that I should be a writer for a living. And as the days tick on and on, and life gets in the way, and I’m still not a professional writer, I feel a great sense of self-inflicted pressure about it all.
I am a perfectionist at heart. I am a control freak, with a great need to do everything well – and an even greater fear of failure. I often suffer from writer’s block; if I don’t like what I write, I freeze up and stop, sometimes for months at a time. I’d like to write full-time for a living, but I get so stressed about it that I just…don’t write. I sometimes forget that I am supposed to enjoy writing. Isn’t that why I do it?
But with photography, there’s no pressure. It’s my way of experimenting with creativity, of being free to play around with different angles and compositions. I have thousands and thousands of shots - some awful, some okay, some great. I print off my favourites and pin them to my wall. I send them to my friends in birthday cards. I often share my photos on social media, but I only have about 100 followers on Instagram. I have a handful of people on Facebook who loyally like my photos of blossoming or cups of coffee.
But it doesn’t really matter to me. I take photos because I enjoy it. That’s all.
I care so much about my writing, I often forget that I’m supposed to be enjoying it. But I don’t care what anyone thinks about my photography. And it’s that freedom which brings me true pleasure.
You don’t have to be good at the things that bring you pleasure in life. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, or how much impact it causes in the world. If it makes you truly happy – ice-cream sundae-eating, giddy-in-the-sun, vein-fizzing and toe-tapping happy – then that’s all that matters. That happiness will seep into all elements of your life and make you more open-minded, more productive, and more fulfilled.
It doesn’t matter what you love doing. It doesn’t matter what other people tell you to do. It doesn’t matter how good you are at something. It just matters that it brings you joy.
So I ask you now: what makes you truly happy? What brings you pleasure? What makes your heart sing? It is what everyone else tells you it should be?
The answer may surprise you.
But the answer is also the key to unlocking your true happiness.
By: Alex Pendleton
I am 29 and based in Oxford, England, where I work in Higher Education. I have previously lived and worked in Germany and Italy, and travel whenever I get the chance. An introvert at heart, I love reading, baking and listening to other people's stories. I share my own via my blog, Season Changes City Streets.