Pleasure vs. Happiness: No…not the same thing!

I read some wise words by Dalai Lama last week, that just kept on coming back to me these days. Well, of course, I also took two flights this week, so there was a lot of spare time for thinking in the plane, however, it’s been a while since I have been so into words I read. He was saying “Learn to differentiate between what gives you pleasure and what makes you happy”.

I have never thought before to differentiate between pleasure and happiness, but then I realized how much sense it makes and how important it is. I have to admit… it hit me on the flight from Bucharest to Geneva that I am a pleasure seeking person and this is how I have been sustaining my happiness… I mean I always need to do something. I can’t stay still. If I do stay still and alone, I start over-evaluating things and most probably get sad. There is a good chance I have spent most of my energy in my life so far seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

However, the pleasure seems to be always connected to an external factor: for example, graduating university, getting the dream job, the right project, being loved by someone, falling in love, great sex, travelling to a new place and so on. When the so-called thing that created the pleasure disappears, so does the happy state, which can only mean that the Pleasure by itself is not sustainable over long term…it is temporary.

Apparently, there is a huge difference between happiness and pleasure.  Pleasure is connected to the positive experiences of our senses, and with good things happening. Pleasurable experiences can give us temporary feelings of happiness, but this happiness does not last long because it is dependent upon external events and experiences. We have to keep on having the good experiences: more food, more fun or love, more money, more sex, more things (!) in order to feel pleasure. This is how we build addictions… needing more and more to feel a short-lived feeling of happiness.

Now, happiness is totally something else. It is not dependent on external factors, it comes from the inside, from an inner peace with oneself and the world around. As I was looking into this subject, I found a definition by Matthieu Ricard as follows: Happiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things…genuine happiness may be influenced by circumstance, but it isn’t dependent on it. It actually gives us the inner resources to deal better with those circumstances. Happiness is often equated with a maximization of pleasure, and some imagine that true happiness would consist of an interrupted succession of pleasurable experiences….There is no reason to deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of a magnificent landscape, of swimming in the sea or of the scent of a rose, but we must understand that the experience of pleasure is dependent upon circumstance, on a specific location or moment in time. It is unstable by nature, and the sensation it evokes can soon become neutral or even unpleasant.

Here is a list of differences I found between pleasure and happiness:

Pleasure Happiness
The focus is on me.  The pleasure I get eating cake, enjoying comforts/luxuries etc The focus is on others.  The happiness I get is from giving others what they need or wish for.
Externally-derived.  Our pleasure arises when we come into contact with something outside ourselves. Internally-derived.  Our happiness comes from our own thoughts and feelings.
Short lived. Pleasurable experiences wear off quickly and deliver limited satisfaction when remembered later. Enduring.  Doing something meaningful for the happiness of others produces a feeling which still makes us happy when we recall it long after.
Subject to circumstances.  Even the most delicious cake will not deliver pleasure if a heated argument erupts while you’re eating! Not subject to circumstances. We feel happy if we’re able to help others even in awful conditions.
The more we experience it, the less it delivers.  The first slice of cake is great.  What about the second …. fifth … tenth?! The more we experience it, the more it delivers.  The feeling of satisfaction we get rescuing the tenth waterlogged bird in a storm may be even greater than the first one.

So this for me shed light this week on how to understand whether what I do is something that is durable for my own happiness or just a glimpse of pleasure, how to think of things a bit differently and nevertheless how to choose to do things that not just create me pleasure, but that leave me actually genuinely happy on the long run. I’ll test this thinking and see how it goes 🙂