Unleash edification by succumbing to sustainable pleasure

Jonathan Roseland
15 min readMar 11, 2023
Listen to podcast: Lifehacking Ethical Hedonism 😇 Unleash edification by succumbing to sustainable pleasure

2023 Update: There is this dumb puritanical advice that older people often give to younger people…
“You’ll PAY in later in life for all that reckless fun you have in your 20s! I wish I hadn’t partied so much when I was young, now I have all these problems…”
It’s dumb advice because it’s ineffective — I really don’t think it convinces young people to live a little more responsibly. It also comes across as hypocritical — I was a hedonist, but you shouldn’t be.
Instead, I encourage younger people (and everybody else, really) to be hedonists, but not the same kinds of hedonists those regretful old Gen Xers and Boomers were. Ethical hedonism is the philosophy of choosing the greater pleasure over the less pleasure.

This article will dive into the millenniums’ old, yet rarely practiced mindset of ethical hedonism along with exploring its biological implications.

The core belief of hedonism is that…

People should do everything in their power to achieve the maximum amount of pleasure. It is also the idea that every person’s pleasure should far surpass their amount of pain.

However, when we think of hedonism we usually think of…

  • Sex orgies
  • Excessive drunkenness
  • Doing lots of hard drugs
  • Crazy, over-the-top parties
  • Indulgent desserts and delicious foods

These are all really enjoyable things, but we also think of them as self-destructive, or at least irresponsible and juvenile. We get massive spikes of the feel-good neurotransmitters; serotonin and dopamine from them. In fact, that is why we say: That party was dope or that DJ was dope!

History

Ethical hedonism is a philosophy first articulated by Aristippus of Cyrene, a pupil of Socrates. Aristippus wasn’t a big believer in an afterlife so he figured that as long as you were above ground you might as well be enjoying yourself! He held the idea that pleasure is the highest good in the world. The other students of Socrates believed that the greatest good was…

  • To contribute to society
  • To seek self-knowledge
  • To understand the natural world

Aristippus was like: Fuck that noise! The greatest good is to get wasted on wine and have an orgy with a bunch of hot, young greeks.
He believed that pleasure was the ultimate good and I somewhat agree!

Ethical hedonism

Is the idea that we should have a dual focus on maximizing pleasure and doing what is ethical. Therefore an ethical hedonist is a person who seeks to maximize their own pleasure but only if it’s morally right to do so independent of religious or arbitrary belief systems. A hedonist is always looking to get the biggest bang for their buck; they will sacrifice the lesser pleasure for the greater pleasure.

I’m going to give some examples of this to make this a practical, actionable article but first I want to make sure you completely grasp this philosophy. The reason this is such a lifehack is that by prioritizing ethics you actually get to be WAY more hedonistic, both in quantity and quality, than someone who just embraces hedonism for the sporadic spikes of Serotonin and Dopamine.
Please read the previous sentence again because it’s key to understanding this philosophy.

Vs religious moralizing

These guys know how to make moralizing look majestic!

As human beings, we tend to moralize our habits into good behaviors and bad behaviors. Many of us are raised in some kind of religious system. In the religious paradigm of ethics, hedonistic activities and ethical activities are often on opposing sides of the spectrum. Even if we aren’t really religious, we still probably see the world through a filter of black-and-white ethics. Anyone raised in North America, South America, Europe, Australia — ‘the western world’ comes from a moral system that puts abstinence of hedonistic activities on a moral pedestal.

But in the paradigm that Aristippus suggests, hedonistic activities and ethical activities are right next to each other on the same side of the spectrum.

What are some practical examples of ethical hedonism?

Sex

Lucky gal!

When I was younger some of the guys I was friends with had, in retrospect, very unethical hedonistic sex lives. They were proud of having casual, unprotected sex with lots of different partners. They would commit to being one girl’s boyfriend so that they could have all the unprotected sex they wanted with her and then when we were having a ‘guys’ night out’ after a few drinks they would start trying to hook up with other girls, sometimes successfully. Pretty unethical yet standard male behavior…
I’ve stayed friends with these guys on Facebook and what I see is that almost all of them as a result now have some kind of limited freedom in their sex lives. A lot of them have kids, some of them are single parents, and some of them have crazy stress and financial commitment to the women they made babies with. A lot of them are committed in one way or another to mediocre women. Some of them have confided in me that they have spent thousands of dollars on abortions over the years.

What did I do differently?

I almost always used condoms (along with tantric semen retention and other sex hacks) and I was never a serial monogamist, I would always tell girls on the first or second date that I wasn’t looking for anything approaching a serious relationship, so they knew what they were getting into.
As a result of being ethical, I enjoyed freedom and hedonism in my love life for a long time — until I met a great girl worth trading that life in for.

Then I self-imposed strict boundaries and standards on my sexuality (even in my own thoughts and fantasies).

Alcohol

Patron-redbull doubles

Alcohol is something of a gray area as far as ethical hedonistic activities go.

I’ve been completely sober for periods of up to 6 months while leading an active social life. Which has been awesome; it’s saved me a ton of money and a bunch of hangovers along with teaching me to draw state from within as opposed to relying on booze to make me social.
Sobriety is a lifehack for more hedonism; I spend so much less money and I don’t have a hangover that robs half my productivity from the next day so I’m able to go out and socialize (and party!) probably twice as much.

Can an ethical hedonist be a drinker?

I’m SERIOUS about sipping

I think you can and here’s why, I did a podcast episode entitled Biohacking Boozing, on how to block alcohol from turning into acetaldehyde in your body. The acetaldehyde is really what is biologically unethical; doing damage to your system, and giving you a hangover. In the podcast episode, we reveal what kind of alcohol is the closest to a neutral health impact (It’s not what you might expect!) and which kinds of alcohol should be avoided completely.

There’s a specific cocktail of supplements that you need to take to achieve a true net-zero health impact of drinking alcohol which costs about 15 cents per drink which we explain in Podcast #24. So in the same way that sex can be ethical if we are protecting our bodies and emotions properly, alcohol consumption can also be an ethically hedonistic activity.

However, I’ve often found that it’s just a whole lot simpler, cheaper, and more fun (more hedonistic) to not drink. I enjoy European-style craft beers, red wine, and cocktails, so especially after months of abstinence it’s a novel hedonistic experience to drink again.

Drugs

What about drugs? Also, a gray area but mostly a domain of unethical hedonism because they can do serious damage to your body and they are pretty bad for society. You don’t need to think very long to come up with an example of someone who you knew personally that had their life ruined by drugs.

In many cases, drugs don’t even fit into the classical definition of hedonism.
For example: If you smoke weed all the time you are probably going to spend hours sitting on your couch watching TV; choosing the lesser pleasure of watching TV high over the greater pleasure of going out, socializing, or doing something adventuresome with your time.

Could drug use be ethically hedonistic?

Here we get into the whole moral quandary of whether certain drugs have a net positive or negative effect on society.
I’m from Colorado, one of the first states to legalize marijuana, which has put criminal drug dealers out of business, dramatically improved the quality of the product, lowered the price, created jobs, and kept a bunch of people out of jail.
So if you are consuming marijuana that you bought at a dispensary in Colorado, I think we can agree that’s ethically hedonistic. The other end of the spectrum would be like…

Buying cocaine from a street dealer…

It’s going to do massive damage to your body. You don’t exactly know what you are buying, what it’s cut with, or what the production process was like. The product is an economic driver of a massive criminal enterprise; there’s a history of violence and kidnapping behind the product.

Partying

Partying with the Irish

Be it at a bar, beach, nightclub, house party, or just in the middle of the street, energetic socializing is always a good idea! On a more meta-level partying is a training activity for social muscles that will serve you well in virtually every other area of your life.

In my experience, intermittent sobriety is like Creatine for your social muscles. What most people do when they want to party is…

  1. Sit around with their friends for about an hour, start drinking, and make inside jokes with their friends.
  2. After about an hour or three drinks, they start feeling social, and they may start talking to other people.
  3. After a few hours, everyone is loosened up enough by the booze and there will be a party, but sometimes not…

You hear people describe a party they went to as really ‘cliquey’; where the individual social groups of the party just never got over the initial awkwardness of interacting with strangers. Sometimes booze backfires and doesn’t serve you socially.

Sobriety is a different experience, a lot of times I walk into a venue or party after work, after being in a completely logical mindset for +8 hours. That logical mindset is not going to serve you well when you are trying to party. You learn to create the party in your own head and lead those around you to it.

You may think: But being sober is boring, I have so much more fun drinking…

Well, the first two weeks are kind of rough, but after socializing sober for about two weeks, you forget what it feels like to be drunk. Your hedonic treadmill readjusts itself and you have just as much fun sober as you used to drinking. I do have more hedonism in my social life as a result of being sober.

Food

So not everybody parties every day, and not everybody gets laid every day, but we all eat every day. And a lot of us do it emotionally and impulsively. Food is probably the greatest source of pleasure for most people.

Foods high in sugar and processed carbs reprogram our minds to be highly dependent upon them for the neurotransmitters that make us feel ok about the world and ourselves. Many of these kinds of foods are unethical in multiple dimensions…

  • They are really bad for our bodies, in the short term they rob us of productivity, energy, creativity, libido, and good sleep along with being a serious negative influence on stress management. In the long term, they cause obesity, heart disease, premature aging, and death.
  • These problems extend to the rest of society in the forms of insurance premiums being raised for everyone, healthcare taxes that hurt small businesses and prevent job creation along with gargantuan industries of hospitals, medical devices, and pharmaceutical companies that have vested interests in keeping people sick.
  • In a lot of cases, they are bad for society as a whole, like in Colombia where the South American Coca-Cola company actually worked with the rebel groups in the country to kill and torture their employees if they tried to form unions or organize for fair working conditions. There have been two documentaries made on this.
  • Finally, these kinds of products often involve the large-scale, unethical treatment of animals.

The classic justification people use with food is that…

I’d rather enjoy a hedonistic diet now and I will just pay the price later. The pleasure of eating whatever I want is worth it!

This hubris-filled attitude is best captured by a recent quote from The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide To Being A Man:

It’s okay to trade the possibility of your 80s and 90s for more guaranteed fun in your 20s and 30s.

The big secret about ethical hedonism and food is that if you completely cut out the bad stuff (cut out the gluten, the processed carbs, the sugar, etc) and only eat the good stuff (go organic, go Paleo, go keto with your diet) after about two weeks you start to not want the junk food. You no longer have a gut reaction of primal desire when you see a piece of cake or fried goodie. You’ll have to deal with occasional moments of temptation, but you’ve upgraded your operating system and will increasingly find yourself making good dietary decisions on autopilot.

We really are what we eat, what we fuel our bodies and minds with really does define the amount of energy we have to enjoy life with, which is why I originally entitled this article; be the rockstar forever.
Ethical hedonism increases the quantity and quality of the pleasure you experience sustainably. You can keep doing what makes you happy as long as you want as long as it’s ethical.

“I don’t judge.”

Let’s talk about something that’s NOT ethical hedonism. Around those that embrace unethical hedonism, we hear this stupid platitude all the time, repeated to the point of absurdity: I don’t judge.

  • You get drunk? I don’t judge.
  • Do you do drugs? I don’t judge.
  • Do you have irresponsible sex with complete strangers? I don’t judge.
  • You hang out with criminals? I don’t judge.
  • As a single parent, you are out partying late at night several times a week leaving your child at home? I don’t judge.

What’s happening here is that people are ignoring the part of their minds that makes moral assessments. This is not good as people make really bad decisions that hurt themselves and others when they turn off the part of their brain that allows them to make moral judgments about people and behaviors. You don’t want to turn off that part of your brain. It’s there for a reason!
So if you ever find yourself saying this, ask yourself seriously if there’s a more ethical way for you to partake in whatever hedonistic behaviors are on offer.

Conscious hedonism

Obviously, we all derive pleasure automatically from things like alcohol, partying, sex, and chocolate. However, you can actually train your mind to extract pleasure from other things, a few examples:

Dual N-Back — Here’s a weird example; there’s this brain training game that I play often. It’s been demonstrated in a bunch of studies to upgrade the amount of RAM your conscious mind has to solve problems. It’s also kind of a mindfulness practice, like meditation, because it forces you to focus 100% of your attention on the present. Training Dual N-Back for 10 minutes a day is probably one of the best things you can do for your mind, but it’s boring.
In the first session you play Dual N-Back you will be like: There is no way I can do this for 10 minutes total, let alone 10 minutes a day! But I’ve trained Dual N-Back for 10 minutes a day for up to three months without missing a single day! This started as something unpleasant to do but I trained my mind to derive pleasure from it!

Writing — Many people dread writing, facing the empty page, and having to produce art out of it. Writing used to be difficult for me but I’ve trained myself to enjoy writing, I now spend time every workday writing and I enjoy it! I’ve produced over a thousand articles and two books that have reached many thousands of people.

Green Tea — I started drinking green tea about a decade ago. Green tea doesn’t taste amazing, but as I kept reading about how healthy green tea is for me, the taste got better and better. Now I enjoy the taste of green tea, it’s as almost as pleasurable for me as drinking Sprite or Mountain Dew — which were my favorite sodas once upon a time.

So as a final takeaway, remember that we can train our hedonism mechanisms to respond to different stimuli.

Please read the previous sentence again because it’s key to understanding this philosophy.

Let’s say you smoke cigarettes, did you know that you could train yourself to enjoy exercise as much as you enjoy cigarettes? This may sound crazy but look at how addicted some people are to exercising!

Let’s say you are a TV series junkie (You voraciously consume whatever binge-worthy new series), you can train yourself to derive consummate pleasure from watching documentary films or reading autobiographies.

What’s the variable? I think there are two; time and what I like to call ego investment.

Time: Is just practicing the habit you want to derive conscious hedonism from consistently and persistently.
The lifehack for this is a free app, Coach.me. It socially engineers you into practicing habits with scary consistency and tracks them for you. At the time of writing this, I’ve gone +110 days without missing a single day of doing pushups along with practicing a bunch of other habits thanks to Coach.me.

Ego Investment: You don’t have to practice a good habit 21 times before you start to have an increasing awareness that you are objectively becoming a better human being as a result of it. The more you see yourself improving the more your identity and ego get invested in a particular habit and the more you derive pleasure from that habit.

For example: Crossfit; is a physically grueling series of exercises, no one who tries it for the first time would describe it as pleasurable but Crossfit practitioners really enjoy it. They are so ego-invested because of the physical and personal development results and the positive feedback from the people they do Crossfit with.

Another example: I use a workout app, Hevy, that very cleverly entices my ego investment in workouts by prompting users to post a “show-off selfie” upon finishing a workout…

Bottom line

If you are willing to go through a few weeks of awkwardness, if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone for a few weeks and track the ethically hedonistic activities that are replacing your old bad habits, it’s totally worth it!

Leave a comment…

Let me know how you intend to be a more ethical hedonist; how are you going to be a more conscious hedonist? Which stimuli are you going to replace with other stimuli?

Originally published on LimitlessMindset.com. I’m not a doctor, medical professional, or trained therapist. I’m a researcher and pragmatic biohacking practitioner exercising free speech to share evidence as I find it. I make no claims. Please practice skepticism and rational critical thinking. You should consult a professional about any serious decisions that you might make about your health. Affiliate links in this article support Limitless Mindset — spend over $150 and you’ll be eligible to join the Limitless Mindset Secret Society.

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Jonathan Roseland

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸