LETTER FROM THE ARTISTCEO: Improvising Pleasure

 
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Psst! House of Who believes in holding people accountable for their actions. We also think that understanding what brings you joy is empowering. Here's to self-knowledge and respect for others.

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Pleasure.

Often, we say the word with a shudder of shame or a sense of naughtiness on our breath. Perhaps we associate it with lust—a body of desire orbiting Planet Sexuality. Or maybe we think of it as a selfish pursuit, serving only our greedy, individual emotional and physical interests. The mere pronunciation* of the word conjures images of Bacchanalian delights.

When I got on stage to perform an improv piece on the subject (because being an ArtistCEO does require that I show up vulnerably in the theatre!), did these thoughts go through my mind? Absolutely. On stage, the more provocative, the better! But, piecing together my two worlds—the art world and the brand world, that is—it’s clear that the rightful place of pleasure is not in the gutter, but on a pedestal.

 Shannon performing at  Waterfront Playhouse  in Berkeley, caught in a moment of inspired improvisation. 

Shannon performing at Waterfront Playhouse in Berkeley, caught in a moment of inspired improvisation. 

Let’s be mature here for just a sec—pleasure is simply a feeling of “happy satisfaction and enjoyment.” A tomato picked from the garden, a big win at that VC meeting, a hug from a loved one, an honest conversation between friends, a spontaneous moment of gratitude for a house left untouched by fire, wind, or rain. And, it is not merely the destination, but also the method. We can use small moments of glee and positive sensation as a compass that leads us to deeper, more resonant pleasures like happiness, wholeness, fulfillment, purpose.

Where is the shame in that?

But when it comes to the concept of pleasure, our culture mocks—or finds taboo—the simple act of “feeling good.”And thus, many of us are cut off from our body’s most fundamental mode of communication: pleasurable sensation, emotion, or thought. What if pleasure were here not to lead us astray, but actually to teach us the way home?

Pleasure is neither right nor wrong. It simply is. And when we seek pleasure with intention, those good feelings can help us become our highest selves. This is why I stood up on stage, with sincerity and courage, improvising my way toward what it means to feel good.

We must also call on businesses and brands to risk being positive and spreading buoyant joy, to perform intrepid acts of pleasure. If businesses wish to catalyze brand loyalty from their customers, we consumers must insist that brands be loyal to us in return. Brands can cultivate acts of pleasure, wholeness, and self-actualizing fulfillment on our behalf.

Maslow talked of his Hierarchy of Needs, with higher level needs only achievable once the so-called lower were satiated. I’d like to propose a Hierarchy of Pleasures, with simple joys and micro-bliss like a delicious cup of tea or a smile from a friend, trending upward toward inspiration and ultimately arriving at the very same pinnacle of human achievement: self-actualization.

Because: it feels good to be ourselves.

*Technically speaking, plosives and nasal fricatives with a little post-aveolar (cum labial) glide action thrown in midway. Ooh la la.


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