2020.08.31   |   4 min read

Pleasure Versus Happiness

Are We Caught Up Pursuing Pleasure instead of Happiness?

Our view of happiness can be varying and subjective. When asked what do you want in our life? Many of us mention career goals, personal aspirations, more money and caveat with “I want to be happy.” However, when we inquire further, “What does happiness look like and mean?” many of us don’t even know. Considering how prevalent the goal of happiness is – if we don’t know what it means or what it looks like, how can happiness be a realistic and attainable goal?

The difference between pleasure and happiness can be confusing. The two words are often used interchangeably. Pleasure and happiness are often regarded as being external to us and something out there.

Corporations and businesses have marketed and sold pleasure, disguised as happiness for arguably centuries. These businesses promote it to the population as material possession that will fulfil our emptiness to increase consumption for their profit. There is even a clothing company titled and themed “Happiness is…”. While it arguably is more accurately representative as “Pleasure is…”. No wonder we are all perplexed. 

We collectively know pleasure and happiness are both positive feelings. They’re both subjective states of feeling good and can range from incredibly joyous, blissful, to a subtle, peaceful state. 

Difference Between Pleasure and Happiness

Pleasure is anything external to us. It’s getting that job we wanted, that promotion, that perfect partner, making money, physical pleasure. It makes us feel good momentarily, that moment can last many years, months, days or minutes, but it ultimately fades. The pursuit of pleasure is external, unstable, and a moving target. When we have what we sought, another identified source arises to pursuit. When that source of joy is no longer in our midst, disrupted, has dissipated or disappeared, our feelings of elation ceases. Anything beyond what we have cultivated within us can disappear, leave or be taken away.

Betty White once said, “People tell me to go on Facebook; it’s a great way to stay in touch with everyone.” I tell them, “At my age, if I want to get in touch with people, I have to use a Ouija Board.” 

Wealth, power, people aren’t always going to be around. Life has no guarantees. Our family and closest friends can leave us, disappear or die; everyone is a guest in our space.

There are many of us in this world who are surrounded by our pursuits of pleasure. We have accomplished career goals, drive our nice cars, live in our homes, made our nuclear families, and generally have an enviable, instagrammable, social-media post-worthy lifestyle, yet we lack fulfillment.   

Happiness is internal to us. It’s peace of mind, it’s internal fulfillment, and it’s sustainable. Nothing outside of us has to change for us to be happy, but rather how we feel on inside.

The Dali Lama indicated that “happiness is when one reaches the stage of liberation, at which there is no more suffering. Happiness is genuine and lasting. True happiness relates more to the mind and heart.”

When we are genuinely happy, we reach a state of emotional stability, inner peace and calmness, encompassing equanimity. Difficulties in our lives will still occur – we’ll have break-ups, our loved ones will die, or betray us, yet we can always be at peace and content. We could be experiencing no pleasure externally, yet be happy internally. Anything we cultivate within cannot be diminished or removed from us.

If our lives were to remain the same as it currently is, are we happy? Are we presently satisfied? It’s a trick question, since if we cannot be happy now, why would we be satisfied once we get rich, find the love of our life, have kids, get our dream job?. As long as we have our basic needs met and not worried about survival, we can attain sustainable happiness. Even if we don’t have security with our families, or have many good friends.

Cultivating Happiness

Pursuing happiness is sustainable, and it’s fortifying ourselves from within, it’s reinforcing our gratitude, it’s loving ourselves and living authentically.

1. Gratitude.

Practising gratitude allows us to focus on the things that we are grateful for rather than on what we lack. “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” — Alphonse Karr. When we are thankful for what we have and the simple things in our everyday life, it can significantly increase our overall life satisfaction.

2. Self-Love.

Self-love is when we feel good about ourselves, our place in this world, have confidence and have self-esteem. Once we learn to love ourselves, everything else beyond that is a temporary bonus. We’ll end up naturally attracting friends we wholesomely connect with, a partner with the same values, outlook and perspective. The connection we have with ourselves is the most important and valuable connection we will ever have. It trumps all others. If we don’t love ourselves, know who we are, can’t understand our feelings, or be present for ourselves. It’s impossible to genuinely love, understand, and be present for others.

3. Living Authentically.

Living authentically means knowing who we are beyond our pain, hurt, self-consciousness, insecurity, and trauma. It’s who we are when we are healed and able to be present. It’s when our actions are congruent with our words, beliefs and values. It’s when we live our truth and are ourselves despite what others believe how we should act and live.