Happiness & Pleasure: The Crucial Difference

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By Daniel Broadley

Humans are pleasure-seeking beings. Unlike most creatures on this planet, we don’t just eat food and have sex in order to survive and to continue our species. Instead, we do it because we like it and it feels good. However, we need to understand the importance of the difference between pleasures and real happiness.

Pleasure is a momentary thing that happens due to something external. Eating your favourite meal. Getting laid. Getting drunk or taking drugs. Having lots of money. Listening to music. These are all external things that can temporarily make us feel good. They are pleasures that release the positive neurotransmitters in our brain, like dopamine and serotonin. They give us a temporary feeling of happiness, but the feeling does not last, because what is causing it is external and temporary. We would need to continue with the external activity to carry on feeling happy. This is the danger some people fall into when developing addictive behaviours; becoming alcoholics, drugs addicts, obese etc. in order to continue feeling good because they are not happy.

It is an inevitable consequence that people will fall into this trap due to the nature of our consumer society. We must always be chasing something – our next pleasure, in order to be happy. If we fall in to the trap of forever chasing temporary pleasures in order to satisfy this, how can we ever be truly happy?

The Dalai Lama (and Buddhist beliefs in general) would say that if we care for other people being happy, then our own sense of well-being automatically follows. This is ratified by many Western academics and psychologists, including PhD Margaret Paul who has written for the Huffington Post.

Here’s a quote from the Dalai Lama’s website:

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy.  From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.  Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this.  From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.  I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves.”

And the Dalai Lama seems like a pretty happy bloke, so he must be doing something right.

Whether you think him right or not, it still highlights the importance of us understanding the difference between pleasure and real happiness. To understand this, I believe, is vital for us so that we do not fall in to addictive and obsessive behaviours, putting ourselves through cycles of temporary happiness and depression.

To end this piece, here are a few wise words from the former President of Uruguay, José Mujica:

(I recommend skipping to 1:55)

Please note: There are some errors in the video – where the translation says ‘sobriety’, it is actually referring to ‘society.’

About the author / 


aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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