I refused my heart no pleasure – Ecclesiastes 2:10,11

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10,11).

The author of the book Ecclesiastes, within the Hebrew Bible,  scrutinises a

shoeshedonistic lifestyle spent in the pursuit of pleasure. His conclusion, at the end of his life, surmises that it was a lesson in futility. Solely pursuing pleasure has paradoxically robbed him of what he initially sought.  This ‘paradox of hedonism’ is an ancient criticism. Moreland and Craig state often the best way to achieve happiness and the satisfaction of desire is not aiming at it. Happiness is not usually achieved as an intended goal, but rather it is a by product of a life well lived and of doing what is right. If people always act in order to gain pleasure, then it will remain elusive to them (p.427).

Take for example the woman addicted to purchasing shoes. Whilst buying a shiny pair of stilettos she experiences pleasure – the result of the neurotransmitter dopamine being released as part of the brain’s reward system. This ‘pleasure’ attained from the new shoes is fleeting and temporary. Within days they have lost their lustre. Her only option, to experience the same pleasure,  is to purchase another pair. This time the experience is less euphoric. The dopamine release coupled with serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with contentment, has reduced uptake. The second experience leaves her feeling unfulfilled. She now needs leather boots or designer shoes to instigate a heighted neurological response. Eventually even a house full of pleasures, in the form of designer stiletto heels, will fail to bring her the enjoyment of their initial purchase. The paradox is repeated –  the pleasure she has sought throughout her life has eventually alluded her. She is left feeling empty. No amount of shoes can fill this void.

People who are most intent on gaining pleasure are the ones least likely to find it. The pursuit of pleasure for pleasures sake often ends in dissatisfaction, while those who pursue other worthwhile goals with no conscious desire for pleasure, tend to be more satisfied. The psychological hedonist can seldom fulfil his or her desires and the ethical hedonist ought not to be a hedonist. These paradoxical facts suggest that hedonism, including its many forms, is false (S. B. Cowan, p. 299).