In our last blog we wrote about the importance of finding your purpose or North Star, as a way of guiding you through your leadership (and your life), helping you make the right decisions and maximising your effectiveness and happiness. But there are other sources of happiness in life too aren’t there? Humans are naturally pleasure-seeking beings and it could be said that the pursuit of pleasure can sometimes be at odds with purpose. So, what happens when pleasure and purpose conflict?

A formula for purpose

Jay Shetty, a former monk, recently talked about the pleasure vs purpose conflict in his Daily Jay series on the Calm app, letting listeners into a secret about monks: “People often think that they’ve renounced all pleasure…but the truth is monks love pleasure, they just find it in ways and places that don’t distract them from their purpose.”

In the session, Jay put forward his formula for purpose, which really speaks to me:


Clearly, pleasure has a particular bearing on the ‘what you love’ element, and it is true that doing what you love is incredibly important to having a fulfilling purpose. Indeed, it would be hard to remain focused on your purpose if there wasn’t an overriding sense of pleasure at the heart of it.

But, as Jay also said, “Pleasure becomes a problem when it interferes with your purpose…the problem comes when you go to the party even though you’re already exhausted and you have a big presentation the next day and you’ve been wanting to advance at work.”

Too much of a good thing

The conflict between pleasure and purpose comes at this point of imbalance, where over-indulgence can be detrimental.  I love good food, nice wines and socialising with friends, but there’s nothing like the morning-after feeling to remind me of the ill effects of too much of a good thing! The same goes for exercise. I really enjoy working out and being active, but pushing myself too hard can result in injury, and over-exercising is as bad for our bodies as under-exercising.

Over the past few months I’ve made a conscious effort to find more balance between pleasure and purpose in my life and I’m certainly feeling the benefits emotionally and physically.

Going beyond pleasure

The wonderful thing I’ve found about pleasure and purpose is that, when they are in balance, the effect of both is magnified. The fulfilment I get from living out my purpose actually delivers a sensation that is beyond pleasure.

I’ve been pondering the reason for this, and I think it’s because I’m focused on serving others through my purpose. This is why Jay Shetty’s purpose formula is so powerful: because it includes an external element of ‘what serves the world’. So often we’re encouraged to look inside ourselves to find our truth, but I believe it’s in our relationship with others and the world around us that fulfilment is to be found.

As Jay concludes, “Pleasure, as part of a balanced and purposeful life, is more pleasurable.”

How do you balance pleasure and purpose in your leadership? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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