The work of Sigmund Freud shows us that Freud believed that humans are all driven by unconscious needs and leisure pursuits are a result of these unconscious desires but adapted by our minds so that they are displayed in an acceptable way. This essay aims to identify these unconscious desires and examine how they are translated into common acceptable leisure pursuits.
One of Freud’s major theories was his definition of the conscious. Freud divided the mind into three different levels, the conscious, the pre-conscious and the unconscious.
“The conscious level of mental activity is the level on which all thought processes occur. What one thinks conceptualises, or understands takes place on this level of activity. The pre-conscious is where information is stored away, but is easily obtainable. The unconscious is where memories and information are stored which cannot be accessed readily.”
Freud tells us that there are three different forces that control our actions and desires; the id, the ego and the superego.
“The id is the drive within us to bring ourselves pleasure. The id is concerned with satiating all basic urges from thirst and hunger to sexual desire, and is determined to attain satisfaction at any cost. People act on the id alone when they are first born, and as time progresses, they learn to suppress these desires in the interest of conventiallity; they realize that a person cannot merely have whatever he/she wants whenever he/she wants it, and that the individual must act in accordance with society.
The ego is what brings about one’s understanding that one is part of a society, and cannot always satisfy the urges of the id. The ego does not necessarily ignore the id, but rather governs and controls it. It often devises a plan to obtain that which the id desires. The ego is often seen as being responsible for practical and rational decision making. The superego governs over all of these, and is often seen as the conscious. The superego is concerned with the long-term ramifications of actions, adherence to what is “right and wrong”, and producing guilt as a result of one’s actions. The superego is often more a product of society than the individual, as society dictates what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior; it often tends to direct the individual to act in a way which is viewed as positive by society, even if at the expense of personal satisfaction. ”
The id’s desires for sex and survival are the basis for all human activity. The need for pleasure and release of tension that originates in the id is translated by the ego into more socially acceptable types of behavior, pleasurable leisure pursuits.
“All behavior is in the service of tension reduction.”
Appigananesi & Zarate (1979) p144
It is a basic human need to receive pleasure and release from tension, the most basic way to receive this pleasure and release tension is through sex. However, society, and therefore the superego, dictates that it is not acceptable to have sex continuously whenever we want with whomever we want. Our fear of not being accepted into society helps to translate these primary sexual urges into acceptable releases of tension and pleasurable activities such as sport, watching films, reading, drinking alcohol and going to clubs and pubs.
Humans are very social creatures and receive pleasure from interaction with other humans. The majority of leisure pursuits involve some kind of socializing with other people. These social gatherings also provide the opportunity for interaction with members of the opposite sex. This is our basic sexual desire becoming apparent. In some social situations the desire to interact with the opposite sex is very apparent, for example socializing in pubs and clubs. When preparing for a night out members of both sexes will try to dress up to make themselves as attractive as possible. People can understand their desire for sex and put themselves in situations where their desires may come to fruition. However, even if one is aware of their sexual desires, in these situations it is still necessary for them to be made socially acceptable by the superego. Dancing is a good example of the expression of sexual desires in an acceptable way. In recent times dancing has become more sexual with more physical contact involved. This is due to modern changes in attitude when sex is becoming more socially acceptable although the taboo of sex seems to provide pleasure itself.
The use of alcohol and drugs in these types of situations seem to help reduce the control the superego has over the id. People loose their inhibitions and become less concerned with being socially acceptable, the desires of the id are less suppressed and people’s desire for pleasure dominates their actions. It is not uncommon to see inebriated couples on a Saturday night engaging in various kinds of sexual activity in public areas, without the introduction of alcohol or drugs the superego would dominate and demand more acceptable behavior. It is easy to see why we enjoy intoxicating substances as it makes our desire for pleasure more easily obtainable.
With many other leisure pursuits the desires of the id are less apparent and the individual will not really know the unconscious origin of their behavior. Many types of leisure activities provide pleasure by escapism,
“The tendency to seek distraction and relief from reality.”
Definition: The Concise Oxford Dictionary (2000)
Many people obtain pleasure from watching films and reading books. Often these types of leisure pursuits allow us to experience suppressed sexual urges through fantasies in books or films. These types of experiences would not normally be experienced in everyday life but being able to experience them through films or books provides great pleasure, although the individual will not really know the unconscious reason for the pleasure that they receive.
In some situations it is because of our desires for food and drink that we receive pleasure. We enjoy going to restaurants and having dinner parties. It is not just the opportunity to interact with others that provides us with pleasure, but also the enjoyment of eating is a direct consequence of our basic human urge of hunger.
Sport, as a leisure pursuit, is socially acceptable. It has always been seen as a healthy pastime. It provides a release of tension due to its physical nature and also allows interaction with other individuals. However, sport tends to provide greater pleasure for males than females. It is basic human nature for the male to want to exhibit his strength and power. The enjoyment of sport by males is probably due to the fact that sport as a leisure pursuit has always been seen for males as socially acceptable.
“In Coleman’s classic study of adolescent life (1961), being involved in sports was the most important factor contributing to the social status of high school boys.”
Mannell & Kleiber (1997) p240
It can be seen by examining the work of Freud that all leisure pursuits provide pleasure and the majority of activities that we involve ourselves in for pleasure are some form of manifestation of our basic human sexual urges. Although we may not realize that we are receiving some form of unconscious pleasure it is necessary for our survival. Humans need the release of tension and to receive pleasure but they also need to be accepted socially so the existence of the superego helps to satisfy all of these urges.
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