The Difference Between Happiness & Pleasure

Did you know there was a significant difference? I didn’t.

I started reading a lot more recently about how our minds work and what makes us do certain things — the chemical reward systems we have built into ourselves. One of the things that made so much sense to me as I started to reset my life and goals was the clear difference I began to see between happiness and pleasure.

Consider how you feel when you enjoy an event and right after the event you level back out almost immediately. That’s pleasure. It’s a shorter term ‘high.’ For me, that’s windsurfing — I love it. Nothing but wind, water and speed based on strength. As soon as I’m done, I feel ‘good.’ But the sustained feeling disappears quickly.

Now, consider how you feel when things in your life are going your way. You wake up happier and you engage people throughout the day in a happy disposition. This is sustained happiness. It takes more effort to get, but it’s a longer and more meaningful ‘high’ and can come from accomplishment. Sometimes happiness also follows some really tough and challenging times. For me, happiness has come from figuring out new goals and dreams after coming through a divorce. When you go back to thinking for one person, instead of two, life looks a lot different!

I wanted to share this because I learned from it; focusing on the shorter term pleasures too much will ultimately come at the expense of lasting happiness.

Sustained happiness means so much more and it takes more effort to get. I had lots of shorter time highs from windsurfing, mountain biking, running, jet boating, zip lining — lots of things that helped me get through until I could sort out the longer term challenges. But recently I also started to intentionally balance the shorter term pleasure events with planning and action towards things that will bring longer-term happiness. Sometimes, it means staying in the house and reading something instead of jumping on my bike or running off to do something active or immediately fulfilling. From this small amount of self-discipline, the changes really start to add up. Instead of focusing on just one area of life, pleasure from physical fitness and activity, I started to think bigger on friendships, family and God. Oh, and I even planned a vacation…let’s count that as a somewhere between happiness and pleasure.

So you might consider balancing your life between happiness and pleasure. Taking it one step further, you might consider ensuring your happiness by having several sources of happiness. If you put everything in to your physical fitness and you get in to a car accident then what happens to your happiness? Balance the areas of your life that bring you happiness. Think about it — it makes sense to balance your happiness between physical fitness, family, friends, fulfilling work, financial responsibility and a spiritual sense – why? Because then when unexpected events happen that might be negative they will seem like a pebble on the beach instead of an overwhelming wave of water.

I’d suggest two things you might consider applying to your life if you like what I’ve shared:

  1. Focusing on happiness over pleasure so you get a longer sense of fulfillment.
    • Where do you spend the few precious hours of ‘free time’ that you might have? Is it balanced between happiness (longer term) and pleasure (shorter term) if you really think about it? You know better than anyone else.
  2. Get happiness from multiple sources: family, friendships, career, physical fitness, spiritual fulfillment, and financial security.
    • What other area could you focus on and what one thing could you do today or tomorrow to make it better? You’re already thinking about it. I decided to call a few friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time.

I’ve found this useful to balance things out for me. Now, I feel like if a specific area of my life might not be as fulfilling at any given time I have other areas of my life to pull me through. I hope this might help you take one step towards the same approach in your life.

It’s like having insurance for your smile.


Author: Jason Small

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