Happiness is not the same as pleasure


As a teenager and a young adult when I was considering what I wanted to do with my life, I only considered two things. What would be fun while at the same time make me a lot of money. Teachers and parents will inevitably encourage the pursuit of something practical that will provide secure gainful employment. The thought of spending the rest of my life at a boring nine to five job for the rest of my life horrified me, so I started to focus on what would be the opposite of what I didn’t want. There was a growing desire in me to find ways to make easy money. I didn’t understand anything about core values, and I certainly wasn’t considering the contribution I wanted to make. At that stage of maturity, I was only thinking of how I could serve myself. As I reflect on that time, it would seem I was in pursuit of pleasure rather than fulfilment. 

The pursuit of pleasure is part of what drives people to make a lot of money. Think of people who are very focussed on getting rich. Why do they want to be rich? For some, it is access to a life of decadence. It could be all the nice things one could buy. It could be the vacations and experiences a rich person could afford. For some men, it may be about the beautiful women they can attract while for some women, perhaps all the shopping they can enjoy. Consider the level of recreational drug use among some people with a lot of money. The desire for a lot of money is often tied to the pleasure it can acquire, but money cannot buy happiness as most people know. 

I am currently re-reading the book „Flow“ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I had forgotten how much he refers to happiness when discussing the flow state. He points out the importance of making work more meaningful and finding pleasure in even mundane tasks. Compare this to how we normally view work. Most people think work is hard, or chores around the house are tedious. I also had a negative view of work when I was younger, which drove many of my life choices. Now consider what we do when we are not working. How many people spend their evenings passively looking at a screen? On occasion, we may have a drink and indulge in food that’s not good for us but very pleasurable to eat. Many people go on vacation to do nothing but lay in the sun while eating and drinking too much. 

Naturally, I am generalising, and I do encourage pleasure and enjoyment in life. Perhaps the question here is what kind of pleasure will help you live a happier life? Self-gratification is that very self-indulgent pleasure that may not be good for us and is unlikely to benefit anyone else. An important point to note here is that the lower a person’s self-esteem, the greater their need for self-gratification. The kind of pleasures that activate the flow state tend to be activities that capture your attention and focus so that you lose track of time. These are things like overcoming challenges which help us learn and grow or being of service or adding value to others. These can all be pleasurable, but they have very little to do with physical pleasure and are not related to an absence of work. Authentic happiness is not related to hedonistic pleasure. In fact, if you find yourself loafing around, inactive and unstimulated, it will lead to boredom and eventually depression. If you want more happiness, fill your life with more meaning rather than more self-gratifying pleasure.