Since the beginning of time, human beings have been in search for happiness or the closest to happiness that they are able to find. There have been countless studies, loads of research and continuing investigations into what happiness truly is and how we can achieve it. What all of these have so far discovered and are in agreement with is that Happiness is a state of mind. There are many different definitions and descriptions for happiness and perhaps that may be because we sometimes find it hard to put into words what it means to be happy.
In my book “Screaming helps” I describe happiness as an experience of joy and positive well being and of course there are other descriptions. In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
We know that happiness is widely coveted but yet is actually very difficult to achieve and it is even more difficult to pinpoint how to get to a state of happiness. What has become more apparent is that the pursuit of happiness is one that requires some emotional and mental work, we are learning now that to be happy we need to be more mindful of how we think, the things we focus on, the people we are around and the type of experiences we immerse ourselves in.
Happiness we learn is not something that we can buy or achieve by gaining external things such as money, cars, houses, clothes and so on. In fact, what makes happiness so elusive is that to be truly happy we must learn how to be happy even with the simple things and this means cultivating happiness that comes from within. This is a challenge for many who in the belief that happiness can be purchased spend their lives on acquiring. Whether it is the pursuit of sex, drugs, drinks, a high flying career, possessions and so on or risk taking and taking part in daring activities such as sky diving, bungee jumping, mountain climbing etc., humans are constantly looking for happiness but what they end up with when they do all of the above is a short burst of pleasure which fades as quickly as it came.
This can lead us to confuse pleasure and happiness as being one and the same thing, but they are definitely not. Pleasure in and of itself can be a good thing and in fact pleasure in the right form is a beautiful thing. You can get pleasure from the smallest of things, like a cold drink on a hot day, a kiss with a loved one, an unexpected compliment, reading a good book etc. However, pleasure is extremely short lived and by its very nature doesn’t satisfy for long. So what happens with a lot of us is that we replace the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of pleasure. Pleasure gives us a quick hit of joy, we feel good for a short while but it soon dissipates and we find that we need to find more of the same things to get that pleasure or find something new to give us more pleasure.
This is where, if we are not careful we start to chase the quick thrill of pleasure and we can then end up as pleasure junkies. We start to thrive from the thrill we get from a repeated behaviour or activity and when it wears off we need something else to replace it. It is how we get addicted to certain behaviours like buying things we don’t need, overeating, drinking or drugs. We have a bit, it makes us feel good, we have a bit more, it makes us feel better but after a while we will need to take twice as much to feel as good as we did in the beginning. It is this process that kickstarts the vicious process of us a constant need for a pleasure hit which has the danger in some cases of leading to extremely destructive and in some cases life threatening behaviour.
The problem with pleasure is that it can never satisfy us in the long run and all it does is make us more likely to become pain avoiders. We become so desperate to feel good, we will go to any lengths to avoid the lows as that is where the pain is. So we are constantly on the look out for more ways to find pleasure but the catch with pleasure seeking is that the goal post is always moving so we find that we are never happy. Unfortunately, the growth is in the pain and by avoiding this, we avoid becoming a better version of ourselves. The moment you change this narrative and start to look inside of yourself and instead of trying to be happy, learn how to be authentic, how to be mindful and grateful, how to choose good people to surround yourself with, how to be content, how to give to others and learning to love yourself, that is where you start to experience happiness in a different way.
Being a pleasure junkie usually means that you are incapable of committing to any actions that may cause you discomfort. For this reason, most pleasure addicts find it difficult to achieve things like weight loss, exercise or fitness goals, career change goals and even behaviour change. You will find that as a pleasure addict you lack the drive or motivation to make changes to your life even when you realise you are in a situation you don’t want to be in because making that change will usually will be accompanied by some discomfort or pain. Pleasure addicts tend to be less resilient and unemotionally intelligent. This is because they fail to see the connection between their thoughts and their feelings.
Being a pleasure junkie is not all bad news and there is a midway point between a pleasure junkie and a pain avoider that is ideal for most of us to be. Of course, sometimes we may veer more to one side than the other but as with everything else in life this is a continuous process of learning and reflection for us to find out where we meet our true equilibrium. Pleasure junkies are already good at knowing what pleases them, they just need to learn not to overdo it and to keep the pleasure seeking to experiences that are meaningful, mindful and ultimately useful for their long term growth.