Two Types of Happiness: Joy and Pleasure

By Dr Tom Das -

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Imagine strolling barefoot along a sandy tropical beach watching the sunset. Can you imagine what it feels like? Now imagine winning the lottery, and what that feels like. These two scenarios, whilst both pleasant, feel different don’t they? Take a few moments to feel both these imaginary scenarios in turn and get a sense for how they each feel.

For me, with the sunset, the feeling is more peaceful, connected, warm and gentle. With the lottery, there is more excitement at the sense of gain. If you explore your feelings and sensations further, you can see that with the sunset the sense of self is diminished, perhaps even absent, and in its place is a sense of wholeness or connectedness. With the lottery the sense of self is reinforced and strengthened.

Here’s another example: imagine how it feels to interact with a young child, perhaps one you know, laughing and playing with them. Now contrast this with a situation when someone respected you or admired you and how that felt. You could take it one step further perhaps and remember how it felt when you were in a position of power over someone, when you were in control. Again, whilst these feelings are probably all positive feelings, interacting with a child is gentler and there is more of a sense of connection. When you are being respected or dominating someone there is a sense of self-aggrandisement.

So why am I pointing out this distinction? Because genuine fulfillment always comes when the sense of self lessens. I call this Joy. When this happens we feel more at ease, more connected, gentler and more loving. It is how we feel when we are with our loved ones, when we are following our hearts desire and when we are with nature. It is  a completely natural unlearnt emotion. We feel it more with the heart and abdomen – this may sound strange, but look for yourself where you feel the emotion in your body.

The positive feelings that come from self-reinforcement on the other hand are relatively short lived and actually fuel a sense of emptiness or lack that keeps us unfulfilled. I call this pleasure. We feel it more in the mind. It is ego-based, driven by a sense of lack, and something that has to be taught to us. We have to be conditioned through our society and upbringing to value social status, good grades, cheap-thrills and domination over others.

So, reflect on your life. How much time is spent chasing pleasures and thrills, and how much time is spent experiencing Joy? Pleasure comes though acquisition. Acquiring things, titles, sensations and experiences. It is essentially addictive in nature and leads to more suffering. Joy comes through letting go, through being with something, through playing, and through giving and service. It is a natural expression of who we really are deep down.

Dr Tom Das is a GP with a specialist interest in mental health. He learnt yoga, aikido and meditation at a young age and his spiritual enquiries have led to a deep appreciation and understanding of the teachings from the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Zen and Taoist traditions. Tom leads meetings in person and on Skype for anyone interested in exploring non-duality and spirituality. To read more about Tom click here

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3 Comments on “Two Types of Happiness: Joy and Pleasure”

  1. Pingback: Transforming pleasure into joy | rope & snake

  2. Buddha said suffering is part of life. As Matthieu Ricard teaches, what we can aim for is to train the mind to reduce periods of suffering and increase those of joy. I’ve found the following in Prayer VII by Samuel McComb (1912). “Quicken Thou our faith and hope and aspiration, that we may be upborne above all unrest and irritation, and be made sharers in Thy perfect calm. Lengthen these moments of prayer, we beseech Thee, until our whole life becomes a continual aspiration after Thee.”

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