Forget The Pleasure Principle
We talked about an interesting article from Barry Brownstein on the radio show this morning that talked about a well known “unalienable right” advocated in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson included the “pursuit of happiness” as a natural right endowed to all human kind. The old song says in the lyrics “happiness is different things to different people.” I won't argue that, but what I will argue, as Mr. Brownstein did, what happiness is not. It is not pleasure.
Happiness is a state of being that is preferred over pleasure because it is a more sustainable and fulfilling way of living. Pleasure is often temporary and fleeting, and pursuing it alone can lead to addiction, dissatisfaction, and negative health outcomes. Happiness, on the other hand, is an internal state of being that comes from a sense of purpose and meaning in life, and it can lead to greater well-being and better health outcomes.
Pleasure is often associated with external stimuli such as food, drink, intimacy, or material possessions. These sources of pleasure are often short-lived. Pursuing pleasure alone can also lead to a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction, as the pleasure fades away quickly and leaves a person wanting more.
Happiness, on the other hand, is not dependent on external factors. It comes from a sense of purpose and fulfillment in one's life. This can come from meaningful relationships, pursuing one's passions, and contributing to something greater than oneself. Happiness can also be enhanced as one discovers a specific purpose in life, and the dedicates their life to fulfilling that purpose. When people focus on cultivating positive emotions and meaning in their lives, they experience greater levels of resilience, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved physical health.
Studies have shown that people who pursue happiness and meaning in their lives are more likely to have better health outcomes than those who pursue pleasure alone. For example, people who experience positive emotions and are optimistic have been found to have lower levels of inflammation, a key driver of many chronic diseases. In addition, people who have a sense of purpose in their lives have been found to have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone associated with a range of health problems.
Pleasure can provide temporary enjoyment. There are several activities I do strictly from a standpoint of pleasure, like taking a drive (a favorite), playing games with family and friends, or enjoying a good movie. All these things are pleasant to me and can add to collective experiences that we recall with joy. Happiness, however, is a more sustainable and fulfilling state of being. Pursuing happiness and meaning in one's life will likely lead to greater well-being and better health outcomes. Strictly pursuing pleasure will likely have a different and perhaps devastating outcome.