Pleasure vs. Happiness


Is there a different between pleasure and happiness? Are they one in the same thing?
My best friend Larry likes to say about people disputing a triviality: “There’s a distinction without there being a difference.”
But in the case of pleasure vs. happiness – there is a difference. A big difference.
Pleasure depends on outside circumstances. Pleasure is where you really enjoy a piece of food, or you feel good after a massage. But, that is not happiness.
Happiness (and there are a myriad of definitions) is not the same as pleasure.
Muhammad Ali is quoted as saying, “Pleasure is not happiness. It has no more importance than a shadow following a man.”
Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun, scoffingly asks, “Is happiness the same as everyone agreeing with you?”
I heard a radio interview of Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist monk, in which he talked about contemplative science. The following is what he had to say about real happiness – not pleasure, which is fleeting and dependant on the outside world – but real, true happiness:
Real happiness is a way of being that gives you the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life, that pervades all emotional states, including sadness. Sadness is incompatible with pleasure, but not incompatible with altruism, with inner strength, with inner freedom, with a sense of direction and meaning in life.

Happiness – real happiness – does not have anything to do with what’s going on outside.

The problem is that we attempt to mitigate our sadness and ‘bad’ feelings by giving ourselves pleasure. We feel sad, so we choose a sit-com, a cookie, a drink, sex, etc.
This does not work. The sadness is still there.
Ricard says that real happiness can co-exist along with sadness. That you can be sad and still have altruism, inner strength, inner freedom, and a sense of direction. And you can still find meaning in life.
Let me put it this way: Hedonism vs. Virtue
Hedonism is fleeting, temporal, brief. But virtue is something that lasts. (I picked up this idea from a Tapestry broadcast on the CBC that’s worth listening to.)
Let’s look at a couple examples:

  • I am working on an article for Religion-Outside-The-Box, which I enjoy doing. My son comes into the room and wants to play. Hedonistically, I enjoy both activities, and both fulfill me in different ways. But the virtue of fatherhood – of being there for my son – is more important, so that’s how I make my decision on which activity to engage in. That path leads to contentment.
  • Addicts enjoys their vice. They often indulge in their addiction at the expense of more important things in life – such as their relationships, their careers, and their health. When they choose to favor the moral high-ground – by refusing to indulge in their vice any further – their addiction can be overcome. When they see that virtue outweighs hedonism, they can begin to free themselves from a “pleasure” that doesn’t really make them happy.

To really be happy means to go on the inside towards virtue – that which you know is right – and do it.
What do you really want from this life? What “pleasures” are keeping you from being happy?
Asking these questions and pursing the answers leads to real happiness.
Spiritual-religious advice:
Find real happiness in your life.
With love,
i best

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