Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of travelling.
Margaret Lee Runbeck (American author)
This area refers to the ways we relate to agreeable or enjoyable experiences and sensations. We will first consider the relationship between pleasure and happiness in order to see when and how pleasure can contribute to our happiness.
Pleasure and happiness
Pleasure and happiness can be related but they are not the same. Psychologists have observed that ‘pleasurable events may enhance happiness at the time of their occurrence, but their effects on the level of happiness tend to be transient’.(1) This is because pleasure is either temporary or we become habituated to it: to maintain the same level of pleasure, we need to increase the intensity or introduce something new.
Happiness, on the other hand, can be a lasting state of mind. It is associated with inner harmony (peace of mind), so it depends more on ourselves than on what is available to us. In fact, happiness is a natural state of being (that originates in love of life), but running after pleasures can make us forget this. So pleasure can either contribute to or hinder happiness. The latter occurs if pleasure becomes a need in itself. In such cases it creates dependency, makes the rest of life (inevitably a bigger part) look grey and dull, and makes us nervous and tense since we know at the back of our minds that it is temporary.
To avoid this and have pleasures contribute to your happiness you need to develop two complementary attitudes:
- Experiencing pleasures fully is less likely to create dependency or attachment because we feel completely satisfied (an incomplete experience, on the other hand, may lead to wanting more and even getting obsessed about something).
- Being in charge of your pleasures: enjoying pleasures without letting them enslave you.
Let’s see how these two can be put in practice.