Editor's blog: happiness or pleasure?

Wednesday 24 January, 2007

January and February are always testing on the Spirit; Monday this week was somehow scientifically proven to be the most depressing day of all the year. Most of us have coping mechanisms for how to get through it. This year mine has come in the form of yoga and meditation - also in the Dalai Lama's wise words in his seminal book, The Art of Happiness.


I delved into it with a little trepidation, but needn't have worried; it's readable and unpreaching. One particular strand of argument has got me thinking: the difference between pleasure, and happiness, and how often we confuse the two (generally placing far more emphasis on the former than the latter).

The Dalai Lama is not the only one to have views on the subject. Writing for the unpromisingly named website, www.innerbonding.com, Dr Margaret Paul, has these thoughts:

"There is a huge difference between happiness and pleasure. Pleasure is a momentary feeling that comes from something external - a good meal, our stock going up, making love, and so on.

"Pleasure has to do with the positive experiences of our senses, and with good things happening. Pleasurable experiences can give us momentary feelings of happiness, but this happiness does not last long because it is dependent upon external events and experiences.

"We have to keep on having the good experiences - more food, more drugs or alcohol, more money, more sex, more things - in order to feel pleasure. As a result, many people become addicted to these external experiences, needing more and more to feel a short-lived feeling of happiness."

Feelings of emptiness and anxiety inevitably arise from our hedonistic, short term pursuit of pleasure (wine, travel, new possessions, food, sex) - and this leads to a vicious, addictive circle of more pleasure-seeking with no resolution in sight.

The Dalai Lama isn't criticising our addiction to pleasure. The answer (if there is one), he says, is to find a base, unchanging inner happiness that's separate - and remains unruffled - from the external world.

Everyone has ups and downs, but most people, the argument goes, will bounce back to their individual base level of happiness in a short space of time (I'm sure this is true - most of us, I'd say, are remarkably emotionally resilient). The secret, apparently is to raise this base level to as high a point as possible.

I'm still pondering the matter. In the meantime: large glass of chilled wine, anyone?


Lucia Cockcroft, editor


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