While pleasure is great, it’s not the same as happiness.
Pleasure is correlated with happiness, but does not cause it. Someone developing a drug habit, for example, was probably pursuing pleasure but will likely end up far from happiness. Someone having an affair will hurt their loved ones in pursuit of pleasure. The pursuit of immediate pleasure rarely results in long-term satisfaction.
Research shows that people who focus their energy on materialistic and superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable and less happy in the long run. Pleasure is the most shallow form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest. Pleasure is what’s marketed to us. It’s what we use to distract ourselves. But pleasure, while necessary, isn’t happiness.
Happiness is about potential.
Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer. And the funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, and yet once we’ve done them we look back and feel deep happiness.
Because it’s these sort of activities that allow us to see our potential. It’s the pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grants us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties.
So, if you want to be happy, imagine your potential and step toward it. Dream big and then take action. Stop trying to find ways to be happy and find ways to do your best. Happiness is the byproduct.
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