कभी-कभी दर्द भी सुखद होता है... Sometimes Pain is Pleasurable Too

Author : Dr. P. D.GUPTA

Former Director Grade Scientist, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India


Pleasure is the opposite of pain. Pain feels bad, but pleasure feels good. Pleasure is a general term for good feelings. People get pleasure from eating, sleeping, watching TV, or anything else they enjoy.  Taking pleasure in simple things will help to relax. Physiologically speaking, pain and pleasure have more in common than one might think. Research has shown that sensations of pain and pleasure activate the same neural mechanisms in the brain. Pleasure and pain are both tied to the interacting dopamine and opioid systems in the brain, which regulate neurotransmitters that are involved in reward- or motivation-driven behaviours, which include eating, drinking, and sex.

Is pain necessary for pleasure? Sometimes, yes. Infect, Pain Builds Pleasure.

Pain may not be a pleasurable experience itself, but it builds our pleasure in ways that pleasure alone simply cannot achieve. Pain may also make us feel more justified in rewarding ourselves with pleasant experiences Experiencing pain from a knife cut in the kitchen or pain related to surgery, for instance, is bound to be unpleasant in most, if not all, cases.

However, when a person is experiencing physical pain in a context in which they are also experiencing positive emotions, their sense of pain actually decreases.

So when having sex with a trusted partner, the positive emotions associated with the act could blunt sensations of pain resulting from rough play.

We need pain to provide a contrast for pleasure; without pain life becomes dull, boring and downright undesirable. Like a chocoholic in a chocolate shop, we soon forget what it was that made our desires so desirable in the first place.

Emerging evidence suggests that pain may actually enhance the pleasure and happiness we derive from life. As my colleagues and I recently outlined in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, pain promotes pleasure and keeps us connected to the world around us.

Pain builds pleasure

An excellent example of how pain may enhance pleasure is the experience commonly referred to as “the runners high”. After intense physical exertion, runners experience a sense of euphoria that has been linked to the production of opioids, a neurochemical that is also released in response to pain.

Other work has shown that experiencing relief from pain not only increases our feelings of happiness but also reduces our feelings of sadness. Pain may not be a pleasurable experience itself, but it builds our pleasure in ways that pleasure alone simply cannot achieve.

Pain connects us to our world

People are constantly seeking new ways to clear their minds and connect with their immediate experiences. Just think of the popularity of mindfulness and mediation exercises, both of which aim to bring us in touch with our direct experience of the world. There is good reason to believe pain may be effective in achieving this  because pain captures our attention.

Imagine dropping a large book on your toe mid conversation. Would you finish the conversation or attend to your toe? Pain drags us into the moment and after pain we are more alert and attuned to our sensory environment – less caught up in our thoughts about yesterday or tomorrow.

My colleagues and I recently tested whether this effect of pain may also have some benefits. We asked people to eat a Tim Tam chocolate biscuit after holding their hand in a bucket of ice-cold water for as long as they could. We found that people who experienced pain before eating the Tim Tam enjoyed it more than those who did not have pain.

In two follow-up studies, we showed that pain increases the intensity of a range of different tastes and reduces people’s threshold for detecting different flavours. One reason people enjoyed the Tim Tam more after pain was because it actually tasted better – the flavour they experienced was more intense and they were more sensitive to it.

Our findings shed light on why a Gatorade tastes so much better after a long hard run, why a cold beer is more pleasant after a day of hard labour, and why a hot chocolate is more enjoyable after coming in from the cold.

Pain literally brings us in touch with our immediate sensory experience of the world, allowing for the possibility that pleasures can become more pleasant and more intense.

Pain bond us with others

Anyone who has experienced a significant disaster will know that these events bring people together. Consider during natural disasters (such as floods, lighting, land slide etc.) in many places in India when some help comes to us how much pleasure we feel.

Painful ceremonies have been used throughout history to create cooperation and cohesion within groups of people for example when somebody comes to you when you are laying on bed in a hospital, or somebody died at home. The experience of pain, or simply observing others in pain, made people more generous.

We compared these experiences to a no-pain control condition and found pain increased cooperation within the group. After sharing pain, people felt more bonded together and were also more cooperative in an economic game: they were more likely to take personal risks to benefit the group as a whole.

A different side of pain

Pain is commonly associated with illness, injury or harm. Often we don’t see pain until it is associated with a problem and in these cases pain may have few benefits at all. Yet, we also experience pain in a range of common and healthy activities.

Understanding that pain can have a range of positive consequences is not only important for better understanding pain, but may also help us manage pain when it does become a problem. Framing pain as a positive, rather than negative, increases neurochemical responses that help us better manage pain. (The author has his own study and views)