When I decided to transition to a plant based, vegan, diet I had so many questions! I started to watch many videos on YouTube and there were so many people giving their opinion on the matter. Many were vegan but not all and there were many conflicting viewpoints and information. I think with any ‘controversial’ topic there will be debate amongst the right and wrong way of doing something. So I decided to listen to the experts and make my own decisions based on my understanding of their content. Which is why I have to share with you one of the more influential books I have read many times. ‘The Pleasure Trap’ was a great resource for me to gain perspective on how our minds work and truly ‘Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness’.
Speaking of experts, there has been significant nutritional research done over the past few decades by experts such as Drs. Dean Ornish, John McDougall, T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn as well as the authors of this book, Douglas J. Lisle, Ph.D. and Alan Goldhamer, D.C. According to the authors, “The collective work of these scientists is astonishing, and each of their findings is of the utmost importance. But because their messages challenge traditional thinking and powerful commercial interests, their research rarely gets the recognition that it deserves. As a result, people are being denied access to vital information—information that could save your life.” (p. 4)
Let me repeat that…People are being denied access to vital information that could save your life!
So when reading this book, brace yourself for new information and keep an open mind.
The premise and re-occurring viewpoint in the book is based on what the authors call ‘The Motivational Triad’ Read the following excerpt to understand what this motivational triad is all about…
“This motivational system is a three-part mechanism that encourages us to (1) seek pleasure, (2) avoid pain, and (3) conserve energy. Collectively, we call these three components the motivational triad. These components are embedded into the genes of every human and every complex animal who ever lived. Unfortunately, since nature’s plan for guiding creatures toward survival and reproduction is a system dependent on what feels good, the door is wide open for perceptual errors, errors that can leave creature ensnared in traps.” (p. 10)
Ensnared in traps! That sounds horrible. Does that statement mean if I continue to only do things that make me feel good, based on my current emotional state, I will eventually be trapped, presumably by bad health? So when it comes to food, that double cheese burger, mac and cheese or biscuits and gravy may make me feel good. It may bring back memories of my childhood or allow me to bond with family and friends over food but it turns out those things that make me ‘feel good’ are in reality hurting me! Why does this happen? Read the following excerpt for more information:
“The answer to this question is both fascinating and monumental. Only very recently, scientists have begun to see that nature invented a secondary inducement system, a system of rewards and punishments very similar to pleasure and pain. We call these inducements moods, and they come in two basic types—happiness and unhappiness. These mood systems work in conjunction with the pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance systems to encourage effective behavior.” (p. 13)
So we now know we are motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy and these moods of happiness and unhappiness steer the ship? Let’s read some more:
“Pleasure, at best, is an intense event designed to last for a few precious moments each day. The experience is limited, as the pleasure system quickly becomes exhausted. Pleasure was designed as the unmistakable signal of success for reaching survival and/or reproductive goals. That is why these experiences are such a key part of the plan. That is why we think about them—and how to obtain them—so much of the time. The moods of happiness have a different purpose. Pleasure responses are the endpoints. The moods of happiness are the subtle reinforcing experiences along the way.” (p. 15)
The authors provide a few different examples at this point about how the moods of happiness and unhappiness guide people in their decision making when seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. For example, think about the last time you were trying to attract a mate. There were likely actions you took in anticipation of a chance encounter with that person. Maybe you got a new haircut, washed your car, or bought some new clothes. Many of the actions made you feel good and happy with yourself, or at least your physical appearance. Then when you happen to run into that person, you will likely pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues that guide you and your actions during that conversation. Hopefully those cues lead to happiness and the ultimate pleasure seeking process innate in human beings and other animals alike. According to the authors:
“Happiness is the result of making progress and of goal-attainment at any of the diverse aspects of life that are inherently important: romance, friendships, health, material comfort, security, family, and social regard. These are inherently important because each has been intimately related to successful DNA reproduction throughout the history of our species.” (p. 20)
So this all seems pretty great, right? We are motivated to seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy and the moods of happiness and unhappiness steer the ship. For me, the moods of happiness and unhappiness guided my decisions and ultimately led me to marrying my wife and having kids. So what’s wrong with that? Well, “It means that a key component of the motivational triad—the pleasure-seeking component—is being activated, and thus the brain is receiving a signal that says, ‘Something very good and valuable for our survival and/or reproduction is happening: keep doing it!’” (p. 21)
Now back to my example, what if another person was attracted to me and wanted me to be their mate. They would likely put forth a good amount of effort on their pleasure seeking path, right? So it would likely take little effort on my part to seek pleasure with this person as well. Two components of the motivational triad are working in concert here, seek pleasure and conserve energy. So why is it that I don’t join this other person on the pleasure seeking path? It is because of the third component of the motivational triad, avoid pain. If I were to proceed on that person’s path, then I would not only inflict pain on the wife and kids I love, but ultimately the pleasure gained would not outweigh the amount of pain I would receive in return. The authors then state:
“We have become ingenious at inventing magic buttons, each of which is its own potential pleasure trap. Recreational drugs, fast foods, television, modern medicine, the electric light bulb and the glorification of casual sex and gambling are powerful features of our societal landscape that can be deceptively dangerous…In short, pleasure responses caused by drugs (or other pleasures) can overwhelm and deceive the natural mechanisms of feeling good. The senses of animals can be fooled. The motivational triad was not designed to manage such deceptive stimulation; thus, self-destructive decisions are often the result.” (p. 22)
Let me repeat that too. The senses of animals, including humans, can be fooled. The motivational triad was not designed to manage such deceptive stimulation; thus, self-destructive decisions are often the result.
At this point in the book, I was hooked. All of this information and perspective contained in the first 22 pages. I began to understand that our society has an intense focus on what makes us happy and this goal of being ‘happy’ guides us on our journey which is motivated by…say it with me…pleasure seeking, pain avoidance and energy conservation. However, this process is ultimately flawed in our society today because our moods of happiness and unhappiness are open to perceptual errors which lead us to bad decision making.
There is this ideal life portrayed in our society and many people are so focused on living this life they often overlook the fact that this idealistic life may not lead to happiness and pleasure. To top it off, we spend an enormous amount of energy trying to achieve it. And when we, as a society, are not happy what do we do? Well, after a long day of work, we are tired and unhappy (in pain) so we seek pleasure requiring the least amount of energy to make us happy and mask the pain, such as recreational drugs, fast food, alcohol, television, modern medicine, etc. However, these choices don’t lead to happiness or pleasure. Instead they trap us in this vicious cycle of pain avoidance by seeking pleasure in things that are ultimately not good for our health. On top of that many of these pleasures ultimately lead to the leading causes of death and disability in our country, heart disease and cancer.
If you have read this far then I know you will find value in reading this book in its entirety, multiple times like I have. This is a great book to read and the knowledge and perception of what is good and bad for you and your health will significantly change for the better. Pick up a copy of the book using this link, give it a read and come back to this review to provide your comments. I would love to hear your thoughts and gain your perspective as well. But if you’re not convinced, maybe one more excerpt regarding the downfall of modern medicine will do:
“Your greatest danger is the possibility that you may be lulled into a false sense of security by medicine’s spectacular but limited triumphs. You and your loved ones need to know that your health is largely in your own hands, and no one else’s. What needs to be understood is that health is the natural, spontaneous consequence of healthful living. It is rarely the consequence of expensive or complicated medical care.
If this conclusion seems implausible to you, we are not surprised. The scientific support for our position is clear and convincing, but not well publicized. You are unlikely to hear about it from your doctor. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of diseases threatening you and your loved ones are preventable, but not effectively treatable. And, if you choose to take preventive actions, you will remove the causes of these diseases before they can result in irreversible damage to your health. By taking control before it is too late, you won’t find yourself hoping for a miracle that will fail to materialize.
Modern medicine can provide us with life-saving and life-enhancing procedures. On this point, there is no dispute. But for most people, it is far more likely to be a devastating pleasure trap. An uninformed, unwarranted confidence in its powers will cost millions their health and their happiness as they fail to seize control of their most important asset—life itself. As you naturally seek to pursue pleasure, to avoid pain, and to conserve your efforts, you can unwittingly become another of the countless victims.” (pgs. 39-40)
Let’s not become another victim! Invest in yourself by purchasing this book. Educate yourself by reading it in its entirety and become a healthier you. After all, here at Go Plant Based, our mission is to improve our world, one healthy person at a time.