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Happiness vs. Pleasure

August 18, 2010

So I’ve been reading The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler and it’s been rocking my world.  I have avoided this book in the past because, well, it’s the DALAI LAMA.  When you have lived in a place like Santa Cruz, California where white people name their cats things like Bodhisattva and you can toss said cat and hit any number of “energy workers” in Free Tibet t-shirts, you can get weary of jumping on the Dalai Lama bandwagon.  But–and I know this is shocking–turns out that the Dalai Lama–wait for it–has SOME VALID THINGS TO SAY.  Richard Gere was right! Who KNEW??

My friend Krystal gave me a copy of this book after my reading in (yes) Santa Cruz, because she felt that some of the philosophy in my book The Artist in the Office mirrored a the Dalai Lama’s ideas.  One of the things that has been really inspiring me is his idea that our ultimate goal in life is to be happy.  When I first read that sentence, my eyes glazed over.  Oh, brother, I though, not that HAPPINESS thing againWhy are we all so obsessed with being HAPPY?  Whatever happened to other emotional goals or states of being like having MEANING or just being OKAY? Then as I read on, I realized he wasn’t talking about that sort of high pitched GLADNESS or perpetual state of JOY that I have always associated with the search for happiness in America.  Happiness according to the DL doesn’t necessarily have to do with joy or pleasure at all, but with an overall sense of mental health and emotional well-being.  Happiness, in the DL’s terms, is more of an alignment with what brings out the BEST in you and your sense of life.

I find this idea fascinating and through this particular filter, I realized that most of my attempts at happiness are actually attempts at pleasure, which explains why it doesn’t always work, and why the feeling I associated with “happiness” seemed so fleeting and mercurial.    As a small example, why do I feel happy eating birthday cake on one day and not so happy about it the next?  Because while I derive pleasure from it one day, I may feel guilt and not so much pleasure from it if I have it day after day.  In the same way, inspiration and getting inspired is a form of pleasure, but I don’t always feel a deep and lasting sense of well-being from it. Sometimes, especially if it’s not acted on, I can feel clogged and a backlash self-loathing.

It also explains why things that aren’t necessarily pleasurable give me a deep sense of well-being.  I don’t LOVE to do the dishes, but having a clean home makes me feel safe and my life tended to.  I am able to act more on my ideas and live my life better, when my environment is cared for.  The same is true when I stay in touch with friends and family or when I act on my ideas.  Another example: I realized that getting published was a pleasure, but making and completing a book–which was not ALWAYS a pleasure–has made me very happy.

This sort of thinking has made me realize some larger themes of well-being in my life, (like acting on my ideas or feeling connected to the larger world) and given me an idea of what to aim for instead of just trying on what I think will please me.  Don’t get me wrong, pleasure absolutely has a PLACE, but it helps me to realign my actions and my choices to go beyond the momentary and into a BIGGER PICTURE.  Now when faced with a larger questions I ask myself, would it give me pleasure to do X or will it give me happiness?

I’m curious, does anyone have any ideas out there of what makes them HAPPY?

  1. Krystal permalink
    August 18, 2010 5:26 pm

    Yay! So glad you’re enjoying that book. It’s one of those books I tend to pick up now and then to regroup and reground myself. You might also like The Accidental Buddhist.

    I think what makes me Happy, in the true sense of the word (not in the “chocolate mousse makes me happy” sense of the word), is when I stop bitching and S L O W down enough to appreciate all the goodness in my life.

  2. August 19, 2010 4:30 am

    I picked up a book by the DL in a Malaysian airport once because it was the only halfway decent one in English and was also pleasantly surprised. He’s got some interesting things to say, that guy.
    Embarrassingly, I was also surprised that I recently gleaned a nugget of wisdom from listening to Tony Robbins’ TED talk. Amidst the slick talking points, and patting himself on the back, he said that after all our basic needs are met, humans still have two needs we need to meet in order to achieve fulfillment (another word for happiness?) – “growth” and “contributing to others”. I find this to be so true. A pleasurable life without growth feels stagnant, and even when your business or other things in your life are experiencing growth, if there isn’t a contribution to something greater than yourself, it feels empty. It’s a good reminder when I’m feeling discontented to either get out there and stretch myself or help someone else, or both!

  3. August 19, 2010 9:12 am

    bisogna fare meditazione per il nostro bene e seguire il maestro indicato per ottenere felicità e sorridere spesso e volentieri.

  4. summer permalink*
    August 19, 2010 12:43 pm

    Cassy, actually, truth be told, I also was inspired by the TR TED talk–and those points especially. Don’t tell anyone, though! Shhh! It’s a secret!

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