Pleasure Seeking – What It Really Means

By now we’ve all heard the rather New Age’y platitude: 

It’s the journey that counts, not the end result.

Right? Well, it seems that’s applicable in many more areas of life than just one’s spiritual pursuit.

I remember clear as a bell riding the bus downtown with my grandmother when I was about six years old and demanding to know from her exactly how long it was until Christmas. Twelve weeks, she told me. This made me very excited as Christmas now seemed finally within reach, and my brother and I could start counting down the days! Do you remember that too? How exquisite the anticipation was? But then how once you began opening presents your ‘Christmas high’ sort of seemed to deflate? Somehow the end result was never as exciting as it had seemed it would be 12 weeks or so before.

A few other examples: the courtship phase of a new relationship; thinking about the kind of new car you would like to buy; plotting a new business; planning a vacation . . . even working a crossword puzzle. I’m sure you get the drift — all of these activities or periods of anticipation can be absolutely thrilling, while their end results can sometimes fall a little flat.

Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University, calls this anticipatory state “seeking” and classifies it as one of seven core emotions that he claims all animals and people possess. Temple Grandin, in her recent book Animals Make Us Human, talks a lot about the emotion of seeking and how important it is in terms of quality of life, to the extent that when deprived of it animals and people develop neurotic behaviors, slump into depression, even become ill or die.

Seeking equates to the feeling of looking forward to, being curious about, or wanting something. It takes the form of exploring new territory, whether it be mental or physical. Stuff like figuring out new ways to do something if you’re a human . . . or maybe digging a brand new tunnel if you’re a prairie dog. But seeking is not only fun and pleasurable, it literally enhances brain growth and development.

We all know by now how important it is for our puppies and kittens to be exposed to lots of different stimuli while growing up. In fact, in an experiment where kittens were raised in a stark white room with dark parallel bars as the only visual stimulus, they were then unable to see dark perpendicular bars when moved to a room with only those, and would run into the perpendicular bars as if they did not exist. The kittens had very little to explore and learn about — no seeking opportunities, so after a certain developmental phase had passed their brains simply did not accommodate new stimuli.

I no longer have small children, who we all know need tons of stimulating activities while growing up, but I do have 14 animals and try to create an environment for all of them that provides plenty of seeking opportunities. Whether it’s new toys, bones, or walks in unfamiliar territory for the dogs; lots of different kinds of greens or other exciting foods for the chickens; hiding flakes of hay in various places in the pasture for the horses to go find; or allowing my cat into a new outdoor territory doesn’t seem to matter. What matters to them is that they get to be doing something new and different, whether it’s with their food or their environment.

If you have an animal exhibiting neurotic behavior — something as simple as your dog constantly digging holes in your backyard — start thinking about how you can enhance and expand their world. And check out Grandin’s book, Animals Make Us Human. It’s very informative and will help all of this make better sense.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Lynn Kindler said,

    Love this and love you Ms. Leta!! The photo is great by the way. When Colby (my big grand Golden) and I lived with our friend Neil, we were adopted by a Jack Russell mix of some sort we named “Pee Wee”. Mr. Pee had markings very similar to the ones on the guy in your photo. When we gave Pee Wee a bone, he would immediately run out into the back yard, dig a hole and bury it. I would imagine that there are no less than 100 bones and balls of various varieties buried in the back yard of that house.

    Because this house was just a couple of streets east of IH-35, we imagined that Pee Wee had escaped from a travelling circus one day as the car in which he was travelling was filling up with gas. We always felt that he had carefully sought us out and chosen us as his perfect new family. I think he may have scouted out the back yard first for fertile soft soil and known that we would give him plenty of bones to bury!

    • 2

      Thanks for your comment, Miss Lynn. I love you too. Those Jack Russells are something else! I’ve never had one but they are fabulous little characters. My bone-burier is Frida, my 4-1/2 lb. Chihuahua. Go figure. xoxox, Leta


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