Gaining an understanding of happiness and pleasure - The Explorer: Northwest Chatter

Gaining an understanding of happiness and pleasure

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James C. Sandefer

Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 4:00 am

I hadn’t thought about the profound differences between happiness and pleasure until recently while I was reading a book about the life of a prominent religious man and thinker, the Dalai Lama. He allowed a psychologist to follow him around for a few weeks while observing his daily actions, asking questions and taking notes about his happiness and pleasure and how he handled these issues. The Dalai Llama said our main purpose in life should be to constantly seek happiness.

I was stumped by this question presented in the book: Can you definitively say what gives you happiness and pleasure? Are you sure about your answer?

Let’s check the Webster’s Dictionary for the definition/explanation of each word.

Happiness: The state of being happy, an experience that makes you happy, a state of well-being and contentment, and a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

Pleasure: A feeling of happiness, enjoyment or satisfaction, a pleasant or pleasing feeling, a state of gratification, a source of delight or joy, and sensual gratification.

Interestingly, people commonly described happiness as being the maximization of pleasure without interruption. In effect, pleasure is activated most often by external motivations and actions while happiness is an internal feeling that’s long lasting with brief, infrequent interruptions.

The obvious problem that routinely surfaces when the pleasure is gone is that it tends to take the happiness along with it. Therefore, we can conclude that happiness can be enjoyed, but it isn’t a perpetual requirement or guaranteed element of daily life. The objective would seem to be finding a source (preferably sources) of happiness, doing it as often as possible or until it is no longer pleasurable, and this can result in our becoming even happier.

The critical aspect is being constantly on the lookout for things that are pleasurable and doing them and jettisoning those that aren’t. If something proves pleasurable, then add it to your list of options. If not, then discard it and continue the search.

It’s becoming more desirable today for people to unclutter their lives by getting rid of stuff that’s either no longer needed or seldom used, and this includes physical items and personal habits that no longer serve a worthwhile purpose and sometimes even hinder our pursuit of happiness.

A plausible presumption is that happiness is a state of mind reflecting what’s going on inside each of us at any given time. It boils down to a cause and effect situation.

Some philosophers, for instance Aristotle, believed that true happiness is gained from gathering life’s insights during our journey and using these to become our best possible self. He also realized that life is an ebb-and-flow transit with nothing being a permanent guarantee. Aristotle also understood that to perceive we must occasionally suffer.

Living a happy life requires diligence, courage and patience. As further evidence, Carl Jung said, “The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.” Repressing pain does not lead to inner peacefulness; it merely leads to more pain.

Just remember, pleasure may be routinely derived by acquiring immediate gratification. Conversely, happiness is all about constantly seeking long-term personal growth and making adjustments as necessary with no regard to a preset timeframe. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius noted, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

An easy test for determining pleasure versus happiness is merely asking yourself whether something is giving you pleasure now or whenever you opt to do it. If the answer is no, then you’re in a fleeting state of mind that’s doomed to eventually fail. Recognizing the duration of a feeling in relation to how it came about is the key to continuously sustaining happiness.

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