The desire for pleasure and ease is natural. Who doesn’t want to be happy and comfortable? The problem is that what looks most alluring in the short-term may also end up causing us pain in the end.

Recently, I came across Aesop’s fable, “The Flies and the Honey Pot.” In it, a spilled honey pot catches the attention of a swarm of flies. They greedily descend and begin to gorge themselves. But a few moments later, as they attempt to fly away, they realize they can’t. They’re stuck. The honey is all over their legs and wings. They suddenly realize that what had tasted so good was the very thing that would also destroy them.

The edition of the story I was reading had the following “moral of the story” at the end:

“O foolish creatures that destroy / themselves for transitory joy."1

Like the flies, we can also be attracted to what appears pleasurable right now. And although pleasure isn’t bad in itself, it also has a way of distorting our judgment. What seems—or is—sweet now may not be very sweet in the end. What offers us the chance to avoid short-term pain now may cause us even more pain before it’s over.

We take on more debt because it’s easier than cutting our spending and saying no to things we want. But eventually, it begins to bury us. We constantly indulge in unhealthy foods, only to have to deal with costly medical bills later. We cut corners to increase profits, but end up ruining our reputation in the process. We wreck relationships or compromise our integrity, not fully realizing the pain we will soon bring to ourselves or those close to us.

The issue is not whether a decision or action will be easy or feel good now, but what its effect will be down the road. What will it actually cost you when everything is said and done? Because once you know that, you can decide if it’s worth it. Sometimes the answer is yes. But other times, you may decide that the short-term ease and pleasure aren’t worth the trouble.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that one of the problems with us humans is “we are far too easily pleased."2 Pleasure is a good thing. And there’s nothing wrong with seeking it. But are we satisfied with transitory pleasures that will soon be gone? Or that may even cause more harm than good? Or are we taking the long view? Will we be willing to say no to some things today in order to enjoy greater joy tomorrow?

  1. William J. Bennett, ed., The Book of Virtues. ↩︎

  2. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. ↩︎