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Hedonism is overrated – to make the best of life there must be pain, says this Yale professor

The most satisfying lives are those which involve challenge, fear and struggle, says psychologist Paul Bloom

The simplest theory of human nature is hedonism– – we pursue pleasure and comfort. Suffering and pain are, by their very nature, to be avoided. The spirit of this view is nicely captured in The Epic of Gilgamesh: “Let your belly be full, enjoy yourself always by day and by night! Make merry each day, dance and play day and night… For such is the destiny of men.” And also by the Canadian rock band Trooper: “We’re here for a good time / Not a long time / So have a good time / The sun can’t shine every day.”

Hedonists wouldn’t deny that life is full of voluntary suffering – we wake up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, take the 8.15 into the city, undergo painful medical procedures. But for the hedonist, these unpleasant acts are seen as the costs that must be paid to obtain greater pleasures in the future. Challenging and difficult work is the ticket to survival and status; boring exercise and unpleasant diets are what you have to go through for abs of steel and a vibrant old age, and so on.

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