Is Happiness not Pleasure?

We often confuse “feeling good” with “being happy”. One of these is a feeling, the other a state of being. By trying to feel good all the time we can fall into addiction…

According to the Deceleration of Independence it is our unalienable right to have “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but what is this “happiness” we have a right to?  Many of us think happiness equals obtaining pleasure. That new thing, that sweet bling, that super awesome car, that hottie at the bar. That pearl necklace, being reckless, that sex, those drugs that rock and roll. I don’t think Thomas Jefferson had these in mind when he declared our right to happiness. None of these simple pleasures are a guarantee, as a matter of fact, they usually only last a very short time. Boom, bam and thank you mam! Generally the feeling of buying something new only feels good for that first day, then it quickly fades. A win in Fortnite just satisfies for those few seconds then load the next game. Drinking heavily feels good for a few hours, then followed by suffering. Finish a Netflix show and on to the next one. Eat one potato chip and a few minutes later the whole bag is gone!

This defines pleasure, something that feels good for a short time then followed by the opposite. The absence of that feel good chemical in your brain makes us want more. When feeling good the brain neurons release feel-good chemicals, but the problem is that it only has a limited number of these. They are normally released in a slow steady manner and recycled to save for later. Drugs like Methamphetamine (crystal, ice) cause a huge release of these chemicals. This results in an intense euphoria. Soon there is so much that their effectiveness declines. This happens not due the absence of feel-good chemicals but the receiving neurons actually destroy some of their receptors for these chemicals. This leads to the user wanting more of the drug to get the same effect.

The founding fathers probably meant a long lasting state of happiness, something that sticks around despite time passing by. Feeling good is not synonymous with being happy. Just as much as feeling bad is not synonymous with depression. To gain a simple pleasure may feel good, but as soon as it fades, the absence will be filled with a desire for more. Just the same, feeling bad will last a short while and be followed with feeling “just fine” or even “good” sometimes. For example, smoking a cigarette or watching a really good movie. For those few moments it feels good, but then it ends. The nicotine rush fades, the end credits roll, the feel good chemicals in your brain follow suit. Why do you think vape pens became so popular? You can instantly, without leaving the couch get another hit of nicotine. Why Netflix? You can instantly, without leaving the couch load the next show. Uber Eats? Eat without leaving the house. You can avoid the “withdrawal” instantly. Instant coffee. Instant recharge. Instant gratification. You ever see a kid eat an ice cream and then shortly after the sugar rush fades they get moody? They beg for another, they beg for a movie or just something else to feel good again. We do the same thing. We seek simple pleasure, we obtain said enjoyment, the clock ticks, the pleasure fades and our brain simply beckons for more.

Happiness on the other hand is the absence instant pleasure. It is much more delayed and lasts way longer. It is by giving up these simple pleasures and accepting our state without them that we can achieve happiness. You can even say that happiness is the result of enduring pain, it is predicated on pain. It is based on choosing the pain of hard work.

That’s right, pleasure is based on a self gratification followed by pain. Happiness is preceded by pain and followed by long lasting reward.

The pain I refer to is a chosen pain, it is the act of forgoing pleasure, not self inflicted pain, but simply giving up simple pleasure. For example, by giving up sweet delicious high carb snack foods and enduring the pain of going to the gym every day is followed by the reward of rocking that banging beautiful bod on the beach. By enduring the pain of discussing your feelings with your spouse, the two of you grow even closer in understanding. By giving up a little bit of Social Media, Netflix, Video Games, you realize there are these people called family living with you. By putting pants on and going to work on time you will reap the benefit of being able to pay your internet bill.

But this chosen pain doesn’t last long. Just like building a tolerance to a drug, for example drinking coffee multiple times throughout the day becomes ineffective, you can also build a tolerance for choosing pain.

By choosing discomfort like running every day, the pain of running slowly changes to pleasure. I have tried many times to get back into running daily (it’s another story how I finally achieved this, a simple trick is to set your alarm and leave your phone on the opposite end of the room), but I remember, at first it was painful. I didn’t want to get up at 5:30 and put my shoes on, load the dogs on the truck and go to the woods. It hurt to forgo sleep, it hurt my muscles, it hurt the whole way, about one mile in and I wanted to give up. I kept going. After about 2 weeks I noticed a shift in the pain. After another week the pain seemed to go away. After the fourth week, the running became fun. Nowadays I feel bad when I don’t go running.

The pain of forgoing pleasure should not be confused with the pain inflicted from external forces. The pain I refer to here is chosen by the individual in hope of a better future. Some pain can occur outside of one’s choice, for example, stepping on a Lego in the middle of the night, spilling hot coffee on your lap after a fender bender or losing your leg in a freak accident. These are examples of things out of our control, like the weather. We can’t change these random events. The thing we can choose is how to react to them. I don’t mean to say it’s good to step on the Lego, I mean to say that you can learn from this and ensure cleaning the house or enforcing rules for your children. Many soldiers return from war with a limb missing, many of these guys fall into severe depression, drink themselves to sleep each night and repeat the next day. Some of them on the other hand continue to live their lives, they figure out what type of work they can do, they get married and have children all despite missing an arm. Why the difference? Ever see the classic movie, Forest Gump? Lieutenant Dan loses his legs in battle and returns to fall into depression and addiction, he forgot who he was and could be. There’s the classic scene

Forest Gump: “What are you doing here?”

Lieutenant Dan: “I’m trying out my sea legs.”

Forest: “But you ain’t got no legs Lt Dan.”

Lt Dan: “This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. I had a destiny. I was Lieutenant Dan Tyler.”

Forest: “Yo-You’re still Lieutenant Dan.”

That last line by Forest says it all. “You are still you.” No matter the weather, the stock market crash, the fender bender, you are still you. You choose how you react to these events and continue striving for happiness.

It is easy to say one suffers as a result of external problems. For example, “I am poor because my father never taught me how to handle money,” or “I am terrible at relationships because my mother never taught me how to love,” or “I cannot perform my work well because I have anxiety,” and “I have anxiety because my brother picked on me when I was a child.” THIS IS WRONG THINKING, stinking thinking! The question is how do you interpret such events? Depending on your understanding of those external events you can choose how to think and therefore how to act as a result. Is it not true, the person who blames his parents for not teaching them financial responsibility, can choose to take it upon themselves to seek help, read a book, listen to a podcast or watch YouTube videos on how to handle their money? Is it not more basic, but to simply not spend money? Is it not true that the man who was falsely accused, beaten in prison can seek restitution and counseling for his anxiety?

You have become who you are based on your past, but you choose how you think and move forward.

You are exactly who you are because of the thoughts you have. We are a thought evolved being. No other animal has the capacity for interpretation that we possess. The cheetah runs fast, the owl sees at night, the monkey swings in trees on high, the human has no exceptional natural physical skill except for thought. Our thoughts are our strongest asset. Our thoughts are in our control and determine who we become and what happiness we achieve.

Replace “Why is this happening to me?” with “What is this trying to teach me?”.

This type of thinking, blaming others or external events for one’s troubles is the easy road. Water always flows down the path of least resistance. The same holds true for our motivations. We tend to choose the easier explanation for our current state. It’s far easier to avoid responsibility for our current state because that would imply that we can exercise some effort to change it. Instead we ascribe our current problems to external forces that we have no control over. This affords us the easy life of blaming something other than ourselves and therefore negates exercising effort to change our state.

This type of thinking is easy to do, because it gives the person the belief that since their troubles are not within their power to change, they might as well do nothing about them. “I was raised by lazy parents, therefore I can just sit here on this couch, because I am lazy too, they did okay and so will I, and since life sucks as a result, I might as well indulge in whatever makes me feel pleasure, to escape my reality, even if just a few seconds.” By indulging in simple pleasures we make ourselves feel good for a short time. That pleasure soon fades and one is left where one started. The fix then is to simply indulge in another pleasure and so on. Soon, that person avoids taking responsibility and doesn’t act to fix the problems in their life. The avoidance of one’s problems will inevitably cause greater problems. Great problems will lead to seeking more escape. The cycle continues until it becomes one’s default.

Happiness on the other hand is a result of accepting one’s past, accepting that yes, sh*& happened, but you can’t change any of that. What you can change is how you feel about that stuff, how you think about it and in the present time choosing what to do to move past those things, to better oneself and to strive to take responsibility. By realizing that you can change yourself, you can change your bank account, lose weight or learn to speak in public. Accomplishing these feats will provide happiness in itself. Just the simple fact of realizing that your life is not static, that you are not always who you think you are, but that you can change what you look like, how you feel and how much power you yield is the greatest gift a human can discover. And it’s free!

Speaking of freedom. The Deceleration of Independence guarantees Life, Liberty and  Happiness, but a closer look reveals they are tightly entwined. Liberty precedes Happiness. By liberating oneself from simple pleasures or even addictions is the only way to achieve true happiness. Indulgence acts as a weight one has to drag through the desert to get to the oasis. Life is dependent on Liberty. Those confined to slaving after cheap instant gratifications are living a sub par life. Addiction strips away life and in many cases result in premature death. Choosing to live devoid of the grip of simple pleasures will lead to a change in one’s life. This change is what leads to long lasting happiness.

When change happens, it starts of slow, it is painful at first, but it builds momentum. You will find joy in choosing the pain. Choosing the pain of exercising leads to the reward at the end. Soon the pain fades and exercising becomes your new default. Now you find yourself in a new state, a new you. One where you not only helped yourself but now you can turn to others and help them. The act of helping is what solidifies long lasting happiness.

When you look at you kids, they’re main concern is what can be done for them. What can they get, an “I want” attitude. When they first learn to ask for food or milk or to be picked up, they say “I want milk, I want a snack, up, up.” They insist on getting what they desire. This changes though, at some point they realize that they have something to give, they can help in small ways to clean their room, they try to help mom cook or help dad clean the yard. They learn that they can offer something as simple as making their parents laugh. The act of maturity is asking what you can give instead of what you can get.

The act of

By bringing pleasure to others we not only bring them happiness but we provide ourselves with the same reward. The simple act of putting someone else’s needs before oneself will make a long lasting impact on that individual. They will remember your act of kindness and reciprocate a time later. Even years later. When you fill their cup they will quench your thirst in the most unexpected way.

Thanks for reading, please subscribe.

Dr Z.


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