Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Dylan Broggio, LCSW, EWN therapist.
In revisiting a favorite book of mine, “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” , I am rediscovering a theme that is interwoven in so many aspects of our lives… the idea of pleasure versus happiness.
The Dalai Lama says our main purpose in life is to seek happiness. Though pleasure and happiness are clearly separate, it appears we can get these two confused from time to time. The idea of pleasure in our lives is fairly easy to conjure up; the embrace of a loved one, a sunny Saturday afternoon, a beach vacation, a bowl of ice cream, the thrill of buying a new car or house, sex, getting a promotion! The idea of happiness in our lives… a little more complicated… Love, affection, closeness, compassion, and gratitude.
Pleasure comes from external stimuli, things outside of us, that are short lived. The Dalai Lama states, “Happiness that depends mainly on physical pleasure is unstable, one day it’s there, the next day it may not be”. Whereas true happiness comes from an internal source, and it remains constant despite the ups and downs of daily life.
Most of us do not always choose what is “good” for us- that is, what leads us toward happiness. Instead we decide to indulge in those short lived pleasures of life, expecting long term happiness.
There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but sometimes those pleasures can get a bit out of control and become destructive; that 3rd piece of cake I had today definitely qualifies, choosing to lay on the couch rather than get daily exercise, thinking a bigger house will make us happier. Sometimes they become full blown addictions to sex, alcohol, drugs, or gambling. The difficulty (for me anyway) is struggling to choose to move toward happiness – not just immediate rush of pleasure. The conflict is when the relationship between pleasure and happiness becomes out of balance. When we think our pursuit of pleasure will give us happiness… really, we’re fooling ourselves.
My latest point of confusion is whether finishing the chocolate cake in the fridge will make me happy. 😉 When I indulge in something TOO pleasurable, I often ask myself, “why did I miss my workout this morning, I KNOW I feel better when I run. Or why on earth did I just eat that second bowl of ice cream when I want to get back into those jeans?!?!?!” For years, this behavior has baffled me, since it seems SO LOGICAL to do what you know is better for you. You’d think I would have learned already?!?!
Something the Dalai Lama said really helped me gain some perspective on all of this…I am aware it all comes down to choices and that often the choices that are better for us – and move us toward true happiness – require some discipline and self sacrifice.
But MAN ALIVE that can be hard!!!
However, the Dalai Lama re-framed this for me by suggesting that when faced with a decision we ask ourselves, “Will this bring me true happiness?” He encourages us to change the way we look at our decisions – moving away from seeing sacrificing pleasure as denying or withholding, and toward the idea that our discipline is moving us closer to happiness. A happiness that is internal, sustainable, and persistent, not outside of ourselves, fleeting, and unstable.
So armed with this new framework, we’ll see how tomorrow goes. I do know, as I think of that chocolate cake in the fridge, I will be asking myself “will this bring me closer to true happiness?”