The Face asked 100 people what hedonism looks, smells and feels like to them. Here are the results.
What is hedonism? When was the last time you felt truly hedonisic? We know it’s something about the pursuit of pleasure, but that could mean all sorts. While it’s “a warm bath, cheap rent and regular oral sex” to some, to others it’s “sowing seeds for all [your] homegrown vegetables and herbs for the year ahead whilst listening to Classic FM”, or simply, sometimes it’s just “not giving a feck”.
We asked a diversity of people to fill in the blank. There may not be a right or wrong answer, but one thing’s for sure: hedonism is fucking fabulous.
Gareth Wrighton, fashion designer
This is such a tricky one, but my mind just keeps going to this song so, hedonism is Don’t Stop the Music by Rihanna.
Belinda Gray, 54, founder of an arts charity
I last felt hedonistic at the weekend in my greenhouse sowing seed for all my homegrown vegetables and herbs for the year ahead whilst listening to Classic FM. Hedonism sounds like mother nature. It smells like lemon blossom, sweet peas and lilac. You’ll find it any garden you create yourself.
David Bain, 50, founding partner of BMB
Part of history’s landfill, buried beneath a giant slag heap of discarded avocado stones.
Vicky, 30, sub-editor
Hedonism is total freedom and letting go of the every day; living in the moment. It’s a state of joy and togetherness that can’t be defined by money or status.
Vivien, 65, retired
The enemy of a benevolent society.
Willy Ndatira, writer and creative
Most Hip Hop songs at the moment sounds very hedonistic… but Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pools is on another level. “First you get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it.” I always try to visualise the scene. I don’t drink. I have been sober for 10 years now. Hedonism smells like sex, naps, food, and summer. Someone needs to bottle it and sell it.
Scott, 33, music manager
Is that the thrill-seekers thing? I’m not really sure.
Georgie, 28, unemployed
The pursuit of self-indulgence… I didn’t get that from Google. Ok, I did.
Bianca Saunders, fashion designer
Hedonism is intimacy.
Sally, 59, journalist and author
Serving the perfect ace in tennis against a player better than me! There’s no bigger rush, especially when their expression reads: “you’ve ruffled my feathers”.
Sophie Dempsey, 26, Clinical Tutor at University College London (UCL)
The sole object of human desire.
Ryan Lo, designer
Hedonism is self-indulgence, happy, nostalgic, sub-culture, modern art. Especially when there is a protest next to the museum (in Central Hong Kong) with fire and potential tear-gas – I still risked my life and went to see the Takashi Murakami exhibition on its last weekend simply because I wanted to see it! Selfish indeed, hedonism at its finest!
Steve Terry, founder of Wild Life Archive
Benji B, DJ and radio presenter
Hedonism is following the desire to do what you want when you want without fear, guilt or hesitation. To go where you desire and consume what you desire and behave as you desire. The pleasure of hedonistic behaviour is not necessarily the feeling of excess, it’s the feeling of freedom created by following a hedonistic philosophy. However, all that said, it’s also for sure by definition a bunch of naked geezers in Athens getting fed grapes whilst high and half naked on the Acropolis.
John Booth, illustrator and textile designer
Hedonism is unifying and freeing!
Amy, 22, staff writer at The Face
Hotel bedsheets, the white, thin, crispy type.
Katherine Hamnett, designer and activist
Hedonism is “the belief that things will make us happy which is the driving force of our materialist, consumer society but it’s a lie. We’ve got so much stuff that we’re actually rotted by comfort but it hasn’t made us happier, we’re more miserable than ever. If we want to be happy we should concentrate more on our relationships near and far, of all the things that make a rich man happy, nothing touches friendship” – Seneca
SORT, independent zine publishers
Pierre A. M’Pele /@Pamboy, fashion journalist
Hedonism is the greatest luxury of all.
Róisín Murphy, 46, singer
Daisy Buchanan, 34, author of The Sisterhood
Hedonism sounds like the chorus of It’s Oh So Quiet by Björk, and then Party Hard by Andrew WK. Something pure and joyous, a celebration of silliness and too much-ness. And when I think of one person who is hedonism, I can only think of Keith Richards! He is my shorthand for consequence-free fun, someone who appears to be able to indulge fully in anything in a very nihilistic way without suffering any consequence anxiety. (I am envious, I am made of anxiety. I long to be Keef. I am Mark Corrigan).
Francesca Oddie, 34, astrologer at Francesca Oddie Astrology
The pursuit of pleasure above all else but being a hedonist is not pleasurable for long as it is an empty promise of fulfilment. True pleasure is a by-product of something worthwhile, glorious, or well earned materialising in our lives.
Dr William Van Gordon, 40, associate professor of contemplative psychology at the University of Derby (and former Buddhist monk)
Responsible for much of the suffering, inequality and selfishness in the world. It blinds people from the truth that sooner or later, all things, including the body, cease to be.
Ben, 33, journalist
Essentially infantilisation, which people sometimes complain about but only because it’s a projection of desire.
Vicky, 30, journalist
A warm bath, cheap rent and regular oral sex. It smells like the bathrooms in Sketch where they burn 20 Diptyque Baies candles at once.
Thomas Wirski, co-founder of MISBHV
Hedonism is a wooden dark room. Low ceiling filled with dim red light, smell of incense, leather, skin and absent eyes and bodies flowing in space to the following records:
Susie, 34, yoga instructor and founder of Susannah White Yoga
The constant pursuit of pleasure and happiness. I tend to associate hedonism with people who are constantly searching for their next high as opposed to creating meaningful relationships – but maybe that’s how the media portrays it. In its simplest form, there’s nothing wrong with hedonism but when you’re constantly chasing this feeling of pleasure, it could potentially be unhealthy for you and those around you.
TJ, staff writer at The Face
Hedonism is the first fag of the day.
Lucie Vine, 34, author of Are We Nearly There Yet?
Being on my own and doing nothing for a full day after a busy week. Locking all the doors, putting my phone on silent, and day time napping with my dogs.
Molly Gunn, 41, founder and editor of @selfishmother
Letting go and doing things that you know might be bad for you, but enjoying them anyway!
Rob, 28, developer
Hedonism is your prerogative.
Jeanie Annan-Lewin, stylist and creative director
Hedonism is doing whatever you fancy with whomever you fancy total and utter freedom.
Christophe Brumby, 34, strategy director at brand experience agency Amplify
Early evening Sundays at Giant Steps – enjoying the very last minutes of the weekend lounging canalside and dancing to great tunes with an equally great crowd. Or a skating session in the baking heat of summer when the concrete is sizzling and you have the city to yourself as everyone else is hiding inside with the A/C turned up to the max.
Kat Browne, 36, writer
Giving yourself up to something selfishly, wolfishly and completely, and living for it with great joy. Its focus in its purest form. If only we could work hedonistically then maybe we really would never work a day in our lives.
Hayley, 33, charity communications manager
Being in a state of happiness.
Girl on the Net, 35, sex blogger and author
Focusing your time, energy, attention and effort into giving yourself physical pleasure. It might be sex, drugs, amazing music, incredible food, a combination of all these and more. I think true hedonism is about tuning in to what your body wants to feel in terms of pure sensation and then allowing yourself to feed all those sensations, exactly as you want to, without shame.
Conor, 32, founder of CMG Finishes
Not giving a feck?
Anjula Mutunda, relationship psychologist
The freedom to be joyfully self-indulgent in whatever turns you on and makes you happy.
Rachel Noble, designer at The Face
Poorna Bell, 38, author of In Search of Silence
The meeting point of spiritual, physical and mental freedom, met with certain anchors and experiences that make me tap into that emotion. For a moment, however brief, I’m not thinking about the past or the future, only the present. I’m not weighed down by expectation, just how I feel in that moment and there can be such a purity about it. The last time I felt hedonistic was on Koh Phi Phi beach, ringing in the new year with my best friend. My feet were digging into the sand, the music was playing, I was dancing, the air was warm and I could hear the waves on the shore. Whenever you see hedonism in movies, it’s always depicted as dance music, but for me, it’s more when I hear a song I know, that I can get lost into, where the timelines converge and I feel 38 but also 15 and 25. It smells like sunscreen and rum and a hint of cigarette smoke.
Tim Powell, 58, director at Orchard Media and Events
The ability to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs.
Jennifer, 35, head of video and audio at The Face
Unbridled self loathing. It’s someone’s Spotify playlist ringing tinny from a mobile phone placed in a plastic cup at 5am in a friend of a friends house. It’s Lindsay Lohan. It smells like fags and chewing gum.
Angela Saini, 38, science journalist and author of How Science Got Women Wrong
What will ultimately destroy the planet. We need to rein ourselves in.
Christabel, 33, scenic painter
I feel my most hedonistic when I’m walking in beautiful countryside or when I’m at a festival, just being able to do whatever I like without judgement. It’s a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by natural beauty or hundreds of other similarly minded people. A pint of beer in the sunshine with Bon Iver playing in the background. Throw incense in the mix and that’s perfection! But I generally feel quite hedonistic. I can sit out in the garden listening to birdsong and feel exactly the same!
Steff Todd, comedian and impressionist
Being hungover but then your boyfriend goes to the shop and brings you back a Calippo in bed.
Ola Ince, 30, theatre director
What I’ve been taught to avoid, but now I wonder if I was misguided. Should I have pursued my own personal satisfaction? Or do I constantly seek it but disguise it as something else?
Paul Domenet, 60, partner and communications creative director of Free The Birds
Jumping off a cliff and then finding out you have wings.
Sara Jones, 45, partner and client services director of Free the Birds
Letting go of the consequences of your actions, usually fuelled by strong cocktails, good music and excellent company.
Gianluca Quagliano, skateboarder and music producer
Holiday Sidewinder, 25, pop provocateur
A married man drinking pink champagne from your pussy at the Holiday Inn in New Orleans, deep fried oysters with crème fraîche and caviar; hot Beignets for breakfast, Gauloises in the blue moonlight of 3am in Paris, last minute flights to Seattle. Hedonism is emptying your bank account on mani/pedis, Hollywood waxes, Thai oil massages and not knowing where your next cheque is coming from. Hedonism is closing the door, switching off your phone and reading a fucking good book. Hedonism’s being the last person on the dance floor, or the first…
Sophie Ritchie, 41, founder of Disco Barre Studio
Partying for two days straight with the cool kids at underground parties, after parties and after-after parties with DJs spinning records that you cannot believe exist in this realm and that finish some time on a Monday morning in a warehouse in Hackney Wick. Those days are long gone, but I’m so grateful. Grateful for still being alive – and grateful that they inspired my business, feeling slightly naughty that I now get my kicks from playing my tunes in a healthier, safer space, still moving, still grooving.
Sarah Jane Adams, 63, model and influencer
An affliction of the human condition, which, paradoxically, can never be satisfied.
Radhika, 28, journalist
Living my best Great Gatsby life.
Marcus McSweeney, 38, creative director
Running away from reality with the safety net of pure selfishness; a moment where nobody else matters. The last time I felt hedonistic was in Glasgow, during the summer of 2017 when I was dancing and talking shit to people I didn’t really know in a sweatbox with a name I can’t remember. It sounds like distorted bass, repetitive beats, euphoric piano. And it smells like sweat, cocaine and fading perfume. The most hedonistic places are wherever you can’t be found.
Rob, 36, civil servant
Being healthy and in control of my successes. Having a positive attitude. Sharing smiles. Surprising myself with what I can achieve physically and always setting the bar. Mind over pain. It’s about being goofy excited at sharing everything that matters to me with the one person I can’t wait to tell… and needless to say, eating everything that’s good.
Tatiana Mercer, 32, co-founder of Three Spirit
Staying up till sunrise and making new friends, without compromising your body or mind.
Anon, 31, graphic designer
Nights out in Vauxhall five years ago with a gram of mkat and my best mates.
Emilie Pine, 41, author of Notes To Self
The rejection of sense, the decision that I will not go home, not do the proper thing, not be subject to rules. Hedonism is standing on the deck of the house I washed up in after the club, feeling the sun’s early warmth, body pressed into the man whose arms are round me, and hoping I remember his name but really not caring. Hedonism is the long night. And even during that long, fun, wild night, I know that hedonism is also the morning after, and the onset of a nausea so deep I may never climb out. Hedonism means that soon I will feel like the dregs of humanity, cold in my bones, desperate to wash the grime off me. Hedonism is freedom. Hedonism is dangerous.
Alexandra, 31, features editor at The Face
Standing at The Glade when half the group is like “we’re just going to go back” and the other half is like “nah, we’re going South East corner” and you’re torn but then, fuck it, you just go to South East corner because it’s Friday and there are three more days to come…
Anna, 25, marketing professional
Seeing your work you felt so passionately about, come to life. Reviewing it in the concept stage, voicing your opinion and being agreed with. Working as a team to deliver in order to achieve one ultimate goal. Being proud of yourself for pushing for what you believe in.
It’s being with friends and family, taking a step back from a particular moment, remembering these people in front of you now are the people that make life worth living. And loving. It’s being alone, in a cafe. Sipping your perfectly brewed coffee watching the world pass in the window, listening to feel good music on loop knowing you have no where else you have to be in this world except right here. And that’s because you want to be, no one else. It’s at the gym, with your headphones on and beats passing loudly through your ears, lifting, heavy metal, hearing your breathing get faster, smashing personal bests, feeling yourself get fitter, stronger – better – with every movement.
Beth, 29, buyer
The perfect cup of Yorkshire Tea.
Dan, 47, managing director at The Face
Getting a black cab… I almost feel naughty sitting in the back.
Pedro Guilherme Ferreira, 22, photographer
I think we often forget we’re always drowning into hedonism if not for ourselves, for others. Working exhaustively and non-stop for your boss is definitely keeping up with their own hedonistic lifestyle. We should aim for a collective pleasure seeking mode, it’s kinda finding the right measure of pleasure amidst the unbalanced chaos. Love yourself first and as we can never love ourselves fully if we don’t love others then love others a lot too. I feel I’m a hedonistic person but what we take as pleasure has a different meaning for each living individual. It’s mostly about reconfiguring what pleasure really is, to discern when it’s just toxic or actually long term satisfying. Nothing is black and white and definitive, so it’s a constant scanner that informs our life decisions and how they reflect on yourself, on society and the system itself.
Frank Carter, 35, musician
Hettie Holmes, 30, founder of online platform Dose
Whatever makes you feel good and gets those happy hormones firing, whether it’s an endorphin charged spin class to Beyonce, or a full bodied Malbec with friends.
Anon, 18, student
I’m afraid I don’t know what that is.
Millie, 23, audio and video editor at The Face
A gold bar pill.
Pelle Sjoenell, 47, global chief creative officer of BBH
What we tell youth to avoid while we miss it.
Anon, 28, writer
Sex in Panorama on a Sunday-night-turned-Monday-morning with the love of my life.
Lily, 20, assistant producer
Sunbathing on Peckham Rye Common by myself, listening to jazz. It’s you when you get into a silent sense of content.
Anon, 17, student
Something my dad bangs on about and says I’ll never understand.
Jess, 26, associate editor
Smells damp, slightly alcoholic, with lashings of Paco Rabanne.
Tobias, 25, tech worker
Doing what makes you happy at that exact moment, taboos and social constructs be damned.
Kate, 34, jewellery production coordinator
Definitely a full-on lifestyle of ultimate pleasure, thrill-seeking and pushing everything to its limits.
Alexander Aplerku, 32, community editor at The Face
An after-workout wash down, hot water blasting down from the gym shower. Saying “dare” and having no idea what’s about to unfold. Kissing someone and feeling like you need to “come up for air”, lips locked.
Angela Phillips, writer and art director
Hedonism is transparency without shame – being allowed to be completely open about who you are and what brings you pleasure without fear of judgement or equally the process of not judging others for what they find pleasurable. Ideally, I feel it represents freedom. This is, of course, my surface-level perception. I feel hedonism has many connotations and by definition, the continual pursuit of pleasure is often viewed negatively as purely a form of sexual gratification or self-indulgence.
If it were a playlist, it would sound like this:
Art of Noise — Moments in Love
Boom Clap Bachelors — Løb Stop Stå
Amir Englund, 37, cannabinoid psychopharmacology researcher at the IoPPN, King’s College London
The pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment.
Anon, 19, student
All about self self self.
Linda, 58, company director
That indulgent and fleeting moment where sight, sound, smell and feel all come together to make a more than perfect moment, more than you can ever expect.
Lena, 22, student
Eating marmite crumpets in bed on a Saturday morning.
Hilary Rowland, 39, co-founder Boom Cycle
Doing something purely because it feels good – whether that’s taking risks, travelling, having some drinks or working out.
Emma Sayle, 41, founder and CEO of Killing Kittens
Going out and not being afraid to try something you’ve never done. To take risks, do the things that scare you so that you don’t die in a pristine body, but skidding in sideways thinking: “holy crap that was a hell of a ride”.
Alan Young, 54, chief creative officer of St. Luke’s
Hedonism is always a good idea at the time.
Jack, 31, front-end web developer
One persons quest for self satisfaction.
Ava, 29, writer
When the monotony of the everyday is put on hold, and you’re able to unravel the truest sense of self.
Barbara J. Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry
Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure. But the real question is, what do we mean by pleasure? From a neuroscience perspective we could take the view that if there is activation in the reward system in the brain, then it must be pleasurable. Interestingly, donating to your favourite charity will actually do this. The idea being that for some people pleasure is obtaining goals in life and helping others. However, for some people, pleasure is predominantly physical and comes from consuming food, alcohol, drugs or having sex.
Anon, 46, marketing director
A club night from the rave scene in the ’80s.
Laura Clare, 39, director of communications at Instagram
The joy of living life to the absolute fullest without fearing the consequences.
Rob Leary, 29, PR and musician
It’s the key to enjoying life and finding what makes you tick. For me, the pursuit of pleasure is found through creating music, first and foremost for myself, but also connecting with people through other music, too.
Richard Denny, 46, executive creative director of St Luke’s
Hedonism is for the relief of mild to moderate pain. Hedonism should always be taken responsibly. Should you experience side effects during a course of Hedonism – such as sadness, regret or self-doubt – consult your doctor immediately.
Cath, 22, jewellery designer
The feeling of popping candy in your mouth.
Tunde Babalola, 43, producer/DJ at Future Cut Productions
The pursuit of pleasure. Or nowadays the pursuit of showing your best life on Instagram, making people think you’re a hedonistic, globe-trotting, party-loving, foodie.. but still has time to workout and lobby for social injustice. Or in my case, eating a full catering tray of sticky toffee pudding whilst playing FIFA19 in my pants on a weekday.
Kate Spicer, 49, author of Lost Dog: A Love Story
A necessary escape hatch from the world as we know it – the pursuit of pleasure only for pleasure’s sake – this hatch is sometimes unlocked by mind altering substances, which, both synthetic and natural, are tightly controlled by a group of people who wouldn’t know hedonism if hedonism walked up and flashed her tits in their faces. Denied authentic hedonism we binge on sugar, cigarettes and booze and find it sorely lacking. Accept no cheap substitutes.
David Johnston, 42, founder of design studio Accept & Proceed
Being reborn. It is the release from those worldly things. As humans our mindset is changing. We used to be in the pursuit of pleasure through worldly things and objects. But now it’s the complete opposite; it is the release from those things. So hedonism is being re-framed too, and as we strive for release from technology, overwhelming messages, consumerism, owning objects we don’t need. The pursuit of pleasure is now release.
Stella Parton, 70, country singer
Low-minded and vulgar.
Simon Whittam, 52, PR crisis management specialist
A dangerous path and, exciting as it might be, a sure step towards ending a career, however indispensable you might feel.
Anon, 17, student
Is something to do with porn, right?