“Most arts require long study and application, but the most useful of all, that of pleasing, requires only the desire” (Lord Chesterfield).
PLEASANTNESS, AS THE SPELLING SUGGESTS, HAS TO DO WITH PLEASURE. That which is pleasant gives us pleasure; it is pleasing. And surely that is a good thing — not an unqualified good thing, mind you, but still a good thing. We can think of it in two ways.
(1) Pleasantness in our own lives. Do you think a pleasant life is the ultimate good? Do you pursue pleasure at all costs? I hope not, for there are times we must submit to unpleasantness in the pursuit of higher goals. Epicurus, the father of Epicureanism, said, “It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly.” Neither of those statements is true, for many unwise and unjust people live pleasantly and many who are wise and just endure horrible suffering. So pleasantness can’t be our highest consideration.
But it is a valid consideration, and I want you to have a deeper appreciation for it. Within the limits of principled goodness, relish every pleasant moment that comes to you. And this is especially true of the simple, homely joys of life. Do not let pleasantness slip by without enjoying it. Don’t just exist — live. Live your life to the full!
(2) Being pleasant to others. If pleasantness in our own lives must be tempered with other considerations, the same is true of pleasing others. The compulsive “pleaser,” who has to have everyone’s approval, ends up doing things that are not only foolish but self-defeating. “Please all and you please none,” as Aesop famously said. I like the way George Dennison Prentice put it: “It is a vain hope to please all alike. Let a man stand with his face in what direction he will, he must necessarily turn his back on one half of the world.” We can face east or we can face west, but we cannot face both directions at once.
That said, however, let’s come back to the more positive point of pleasantness as it relates to others. It is an enormous gift to those around us. Our pleasantness must never be flippant or an insult to what others are suffering, but wisely applied, it is nearly miraculous. By something as simple as a smile, we can give hope and healing.
“Most smiles are started by another smile” (Frank Howard Clark).