Transforming Pleasure Into Joy

By Dr Tom Das -

two types of happiness-joy and pleasure

In a previous article I wrote about joy as opposed to pleasure. Joy, as I defined it, is a natural feeling of warmth and connectedness we feel when we are with someone we love, when we are doing something we love, or when we are with nature. Pleasure on the other hand, I defined as being to do with acquisition, such as acquiring possessions, or even more subtle ‘objects’ such as acquiring pride, power, sex, certain experiences or respect.

With joy, our sense of self or ego is dimished and so we feel whole. The barrier and resistance of the ego is lessened allowing joy to emerge. With pleasure our sense of self is reinforced and strengthened, and whilst this feels initially positive, it is actually trying to cover up a deeper sense of lack or emptiness and it ultimately destructive and self-isolating. Pleasure becomes addictive whilst joy is deeply soothing.

It’s worth pointing out that in different situations joy goes by different names. When we feel joy whilst looking at a piece of art or listening to music we call it Beauty. When we are with someone we call it Love. When it is through our work we call it Service or Vocation. It is all Joy. It is all Love. These all happen when the sense of self is no longer at play.

So if you want to explore this further I suggest the first thing to do is to simply notice this. Not change it, but just gently notice it. Notice what pleasure feels like, notice how it comes about, notice your thoughts, notice how your body feels, notice the circumstances that gave rise to it, notice how you feel afterwards – you get the idea. The same with joy. Don’t accept my descriptions, but discover for yourself what these two types of experience are like.

The tendency when hearing a teaching like this is to shun pleasure and try to do more joyous things. Whilst this is on the one hand commendable, I would also advise caution. The very desire to maximise joy is actually the same drive for pleasure only in a different guise. Now joy has become an object to be acquired, and this acquisitive desire is the characteristic of pleasure. If you have spent time exploring what joy and pleasure actually feel like in your body you will get an immediate sense of this. So in trying to seek joy, the naturalness of joy is transformed into seeking pleasure. Notice how subtle this is.

On the other hand, if you don’t try to seek or repress pleasure, and instead just look at it, just being with the feeling is actually a form of love, self-love. We can love ourselves, embrace ourselves and not judge or chastise ourselves for seeking pleasure. We can embrace and be with our pleasure seeking. We can accept ourselves for who we are right now, just as we may accept a child or pet animal who is playing up. We are no longer trying to acquire something, we are no longer trying to be joyous. We are also no longer judging ourselves as being good or bad. Instead we are loving ourselves as we are, we are being tender with ourselves and our emotions, and in doing so we transform pleasure into Joy.

Experiment with this if you want, and let me know how it goes.

Love and blessings to you

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