How this Hedonist Got Addicted to Exercise

June 2, 2014
Kelly Coffey

How do pleasure-seekers get hooked on exercise? If you’ve already got an addictive personality, you’re halfway there.

hēdnist / noun
/ a person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life; a pleasure-seeker.

Did someone say 'vices'? Mardi Gras, 1999 (Oooh yeah...)

Did someone say ‘vices’?
Mardi Gras, 1999
(Oooh yeah…)

Experiencing pleasure – at least, the absence of pain – was always my priority. But taking my pleasure first often guaranteed I’d deal with pain later. With most vices, this is the order of operations; drinking precedes a hangover, getting high precedes flunking a math test, spontaneous sex precedes all manner of undesirable outcomes, and endless-chocolate-cake-cookies-and-ice-cream precedes unnecessary weight gain.

In the name of pleasure I spent 25 years of my life in pain.

The drinks I took to make socializing easier made me say and do things I regretted. The pot I smoked to take the edge off my pre-test stress made me forget the difference between sine, cosine, and tangent. The crappy food that tasted so good that it distracted me from how bad I felt always left me feeling more anxious, more tired, and further and further from OK.

A quick yum seemed always to be followed by an extended yuck. I stayed blind to that clear cause-and-effect association for a long time, answering every period of pain with more pain-inducing ‘pleasure.’

I feel tired just typing that sentence.

Like onions, Dante’s Inferno, and the grunge clothing aesthetic, pleasure has layers – levels. There’s the surface layer, cheap and fleeting, the thin outer skin. This is where I lived for years. I assumed it was the only place to be for a pleasure-seeker like me. There, I struggled to find the right combination of distractions and ingestibles to make the pain stop. Living my life felt like very hard work. I kept at it until the pain – mental, physical, and emotional – became intolerable.

Then, in a moment of desperation – and it couldn’t have happened any other time – I became open to a new idea. I wondered whether, just maybe, healthy people might be onto something. What if exercise – hard work that it is – could make me feel…better? I decided to try it – to really throw myself into a regular exercise routine for one month, if for no other reason than to be able to say I’d given it a go and it hadn’t worked, so there.

Exercise – appropriate, consistent exercise – was hard work in the moment, but left me feeling better every single time. Because I’m hard and dark and edgy, my feelings about this are still mixed.

Let no one doubt: I am still a pleasure-seeker. My wellness journey has been a study in exploring deeper layers and levels of feeling good. Today, I understand that daily, lasting pleasure comes as the result of work, like exercising, cooking healthy meals, and getting 8 hours of sleep. The results – a body capable of going on hikes with my toddlers, a head that can focus 100% on my work, and a heart bubbling over with gratitude at the life I get to live – more than make up for the work I put in, even when it’s hard to stay on course.

Much like my body got used to my vices, it has become accustomed to the work I do that results in pleasure. A workout that was hard in April is easy by June, but leaves me feeling similarly awesome for about as long. With practice, the work takes less effort, but I continue to enjoy delicious repercussions day after day.

No doubt, there are deeper layers and levels of pleasure I’ve yet to explore. I imagine the deepest layer is freedom from desire itself, the absence of wanting – true, un-ambitious peace.

I’d think more on that, but I’m already late for the gym.


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Showing 7 comments
  • Valerie

    “With practice, the work takes less effort, but I continue to enjoy delicious repercussions day after day.” Delicious repercussions… brilliant! I’m pretty sore from a Saturday yoga workshop… and loving the feeling of having accomplished that. 🙂

    This is great, thanks for showing that there truly are different levels of feeling good and being happy. So important.

  • Donna

    Kelly, you have a gift! You put words and concepts together that speak directly to the heart in a way I have never heard before. Thank you for the honesty, the wonderful humor, and most especially, for sharing your gift with the world.

    My favorite lines in this gem: “A quick yum seemed always to be followed by an extended yuck. I stayed blind to that clear cause-and-effect association for a long time, answering every period of pain with more pain-inducing pleasure.”

    Oh, sweet awareness!

  • Maryam

    I am an already heavy chick and I have gained even more weight these pass last months. I keep seeking pleasure in food and been feeling bad about myself.

    Your words made me think about my behaviour. Makes me want to change so bad.]

    Thank you!!!

  • Jessica Polonuer


  • Karen russell

    Hi, I love your testimony and I wanted to comment that I too am into fitness and have been so for more than 25 years. My problem isore emotional than physical and I know how we appear on the outside is not really the problem but it’s more about a reflexion of what’s going on interally. I can relate to the things you mention in your testimony of all the things you struggle with and maybe because I’ve been fit for so long, I feel I’m climbing an uphill battle to feel accepted by others because most people are intimidated by my appearance. I certainly don’t feel I come off as intimidating but I feel like a failure in most aspects of my life. I do appreciate your posts and maybe you can help someone like me, who’s thin but very emotionally immature, to grow and evolve into a more mature person. Thanks and God bless☺️

    • Coffey

      Karen, you’re a prime candidate for my Pleasure Principles class. Check it out –

  • Jamie

    When you end off by saying you’d write more but you are late for the gym it made me think of my own nervousness when I know I need to get off my butt and get my workout done. . .you and I (and many others) have undergone that transformation where the “NEED” to train, eat, rest, and repeat become second nature–like breathing. THIS is what needs to be taught to most people. . .train, eat, rest, repeat. . .over and over. . .only expecting results that are counted over months and years, not days and weeks.

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