Happiness and Pleasure

There is a major difference between happiness and pleasure that most people don't realize because they've become somewhat synonymous for each other. People will say that playing a game on their phone or watching a certain television program gives them happiness, when it really only gives them pleasure. They'll also so that seeing an old friend or hearing a nice compliment makes them pleased, when it's much more connected to happiness than pleasure. I read a quote the other day in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that nails this distinction pretty well.

In his overview for the book, Covey says, "Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually." We live in such a world of immediate gratification right now. We have countless things that we can watch or do for leisure at the tap of a screen and we're getting more used to getting these things right away. As Covey puts it, this desire and ability to get what we want instantaneously goes against happiness. On the other hand, if we can put off these immediate desires and can use our time to get the things we want in the long run, we are much more likely to be happy.

Let's say that you are a writer and you have one last chapter to polish off before you send it away to the publisher. You've always wanted this book to be the one that defines you and you can't wait to see it in print. Your friends want you to come out and celebrate and you certainly feel like you deserve a night on the town after all the hard work you've done so far. You decide to leave the chapter how it is, even though it isn't everything it could be, you send it to the publisher early and you get your drink on. Months later when you finally see your book in print, you look back at that last chapter with regret, for you don't even remember the night in question, though it seemed to be fun at the time.

Now why don't we go backwards in time to the first night you had the idea for the book. You know that this is going to take months if not years of hard work and research to pull off. You're so overwhelmed by all of that, you decide to go for some drinks with your friends instead. You think to yourself, "Wow, it's much easier to get a little enjoyment than it is to write this ridiculously long book. I'll get to it eventually." Only, eventually never comes because you'd rather get these little bursts of pleasure and happiness is pushed to the side instead of being earned from taking part in this fulfilling project.

The difference between happiness and pleasure is obvious. If you can put off the things that make you pleased now, you are more likely to work on things that will make you happy later. Understanding how happiness and pleasure are different is the essence of leading a mature and fulfilled life.

Did you enjoy this article about happiness and pleasure? Check out Bryan's new book, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, available now in digital and paperback form.

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