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Why shouldn’t you confuse happiness with pleasure?

People often assume that the pleasant activities they engage in will provide them with long-term happiness in the future. As a result, they keep yearning for pleasurable activities ending up with unhappiness.

Confuse happiness with pleasure

Photo by svetlanasokolova/Freepik

Happiness and pleasure are two distinct experiences that often intersect in our lives. While both are desirable and contribute to our well-being, they differ in their duration, source, depth, and overall impact on our lives. Understanding the differences between happiness and pleasure can provide valuable insights into how we pursue and cultivate our overall well-being. 

In this article, we will explore the contrasting aspects of happiness and pleasure, highlighting their unique characteristics and shedding light on how they contribute to our overall satisfaction and fulfillment. By discerning the nuances between these two experiences, we can make more informed choices that align with our values and lead a more balanced and meaningful life.

The experience of pleasure and happiness in the brain involves a complex interplay of various neurochemicals and brain regions. One of the key neurotransmitters involved is dopamine, which plays a crucial role in the brain’s reward system.

When we engage in activities that are rewarding or pleasurable, such as eating delicious food, engaging in social interactions, or achieving a goal, dopamine is released in specific areas of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. This dopamine release creates a sense of pleasure and reinforces the behavior, making us more likely to seek out and repeat those activities in the future.

The brain also releases other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and endorphins, which contribute to the experience of happiness and well-being. Serotonin, for example, is involved in regulating mood, and lower levels of serotonin have been linked to affecting learning, memory, happiness, body temperature, hunger, sleep, and sexual behavior. Endorphins, often called “feel-good” chemicals, are released in response to certain activities, such as exercise or laughter, and can produce a sense of euphoria and pain relief.

Additionally, several brain regions are involved in the experience of pleasure and happiness. The limbic system, including the amygdala and hippocampus, is involved in processing emotions and forming memories associated with pleasurable experiences. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-order thinking and decision-making, also plays a role in evaluating rewards and modulating emotional responses.

It’s important to note that the experience of pleasure and happiness is multifaceted and influenced by various factors, including genetics, life experiences, and individual differences. The brain’s reward system and the experience of pleasure and happiness are intricate processes that continue to be the subject of ongoing research in neuroscience.

Happiness and pleasure are two distinct experiences, although they can sometimes overlap. Here’s how they differ:


Source: Pleasure is typically derived from external factors or sensory experiences. It is often linked to physical sensations or the fulfillment of desires. For instance, a pleasurable experience might be dependent on a specific event, object, or sensation. Happiness, on the other hand, is an internal state that stems from a sense of fulfillment, purpose, and overall satisfaction with life. 

It can be influenced by various aspects such as relationships, personal growth, and meaningful accomplishments. It is more internally driven. One’s mindset, and attitude influence it, and how they interpret and respond to life’s challenges and circumstances. It can be cultivated through personal growth, cultivating positive relationships, and developing a sense of gratitude and resilience.


Depth: Pleasure tends to be more superficial and focused on immediate gratification. It can be associated with sensory pleasures like taste, touch, or entertainment. 

Happiness, however, involves a deeper sense of well-being, encompassing emotional, psychological, and even spiritual aspects of one’s life. It involves a sense of fulfillment and a broader perspective on one’s overall satisfaction and purpose in life.


Duration: Pleasure is often temporary and short-lived. It arises from the immediate gratification of our desires and can be associated with specific activities or stimuli. It can be tied to pursuing pleasure-seeking activities such as indulging in delicious food, watching a movie, engaging in thrilling experiences, or acquiring material possessions. 

On the other hand, happiness is a more enduring state of well-being that can persist even when pleasure is absent. Pleasure often involves seeking immediate gratification and satisfying immediate desires. 

Happiness is more closely related to fulfillment and contentment that arises from aligning one’s actions and values with a greater purpose or meaning in life. It encompasses a broader perspective beyond immediate desires.

Long-term effects

Long-term effects: Pursuing pleasure alone may not lead to sustained happiness. Engaging in excessive or short-term pleasures without considering long-term consequences can even be detrimental to overall well-being. 

Happiness, on the other hand, is a more sustainable and meaningful state that contributes to long-term life satisfaction and resilience.

Eudaimonic vs. hedonic well-being

Eudaimonic vs. hedonic well-being: Happiness is often associated with eudaimonic well-being, which emphasizes personal growth, self-actualization, and living by one’s values. It involves a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life. 

Pleasure, on the other hand, is more closely tied to hedonic well-being, which focuses on maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain or discomfort in the present moment. While both are important, eudaimonic well-being has been found to have longer-lasting effects on overall life satisfaction.

Impact on others

Impact on others: Happiness has the potential to impact not only ourselves but also those around us positively. When we experience true happiness, it radiates outward, influencing our relationships and creating a positive ripple effect. 

Our happiness can inspire and uplift others, fostering a more harmonious and supportive social environment. Pleasure, although enjoyable, may not have the same transformative effect on others or contribute to a sense of collective well-being.

Autonomy and Control

Autonomy and Control: Pleasure can sometimes be dependent on external factors or circumstances that are beyond our control. It may rely on specific conditions being met or certain outcomes being achieved. 

Happiness, however, can be cultivated and influenced to a greater extent by our own choices, attitudes, and actions. It involves a sense of autonomy and the ability to find fulfillment and meaning regardless of external circumstances.

Subjective Nature

Subjective nature: Happiness is subjective and varies from person to person. What brings happiness to one individual may not have the same effect on another. It is a deeply personal and individual experience that can be influenced by personal values, cultural background, and life circumstances. 

Pleasure, on the other hand, can be more universally understood and experienced based on the sensory or immediate gratification it provides.

Different activities that can bring pleasure

  • Enjoying a delicious meal at a favorite restaurant
  • Indulging in a soothing massage or spa treatment
  • Engaging in recreational activities such as swimming, hiking, or cycling
  • Watching a captivating movie or binge-watching a favorite TV series
  • Listening to music and attending live concerts or performances
  • Engaging in creative pursuits like painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument
  • Exploring new places through travel and immersing oneself in different cultures
  • Reading a captivating book or getting lost in a compelling story
  • Playing sports or engaging in physical activities that provide a sense of exhilaration
  • Enjoying the beauty of nature through activities like picnicking, camping, or stargazing
  • Going to amusement parks or experiencing thrilling rides and attractions
  • Trying out new and adventurous experiences like skydiving, bungee jumping, or zip-lining

Different activities that bring happiness

  • Practicing acts of kindness and volunteering for a cause you care about.
  • Engaging in regular exercise or physical activity that promotes overall well-being.
  • Spending quality time with loved ones, creating lasting memories, and fostering meaningful relationships.
  • Pursuing personal hobbies and interests that bring a sense of fulfillment and joy.
  • Setting and working towards meaningful goals, whether personal or professional.
  • Engaging in acts of self-care, such as practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or taking care of your physical and mental health.
  • Expressing gratitude and appreciating the positive aspects of life.
  • Engaging in acts of creativity, such as writing, painting, or playing a musical instrument.
  • Learning and expanding your knowledge through reading, taking courses, or acquiring new skills.
  • Connecting with nature through activities like gardening, or simply spending time outdoors.
  • Engaging in acts of generosity, whether through donating to charity, helping others in need, or supporting a cause you believe in.
  • Cultivating and nurturing positive and supportive relationships with family, friends, and community.
  • Embracing new experiences and stepping out of your comfort zone to foster personal growth and broaden your perspective.
  • Finding purpose and meaning in your work or pursuing a career that aligns with your values and passions.
  • Taking time for self-reflection and introspection, allowing yourself to understand your values, needs, and desires.

Both happiness and pleasure play a significant role in our lives, with pleasure offering enjoyment and moments of happiness, while happiness provides a sustained and meaningful sense of well-being. Balancing pleasure with a fulfilling life leads to greater overall happiness and satisfaction. 

Understanding the differences between pleasure and happiness can help individuals make informed choices and prioritize their well-being holistically. While pleasure can be embraced in moderation, cultivating sustainable happiness requires considering values, relationships, personal growth, and overall life satisfaction.

About the Author
Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.