We humans are natural pleasure seekers. Our brain is wired to look for comfort and away from pain. This built-in mechanism protects us from potential harm and stress, towards rewards and pleasure. It constitutes a major part of our evolution as a species.
This instinctive search for gratification can also backfire. Left unchecked, this type of behavior can quickly lead to various forms of addiction and unhealthy risk-taking. Many paths toward self-destruction start with an innocent desire for enjoyment.
Is there a happy medium? How to tell the difference between constructive & destructive forms of happiness?
It starts with making a distinction between pleasure & happiness.
Pleasure is short term. A quick hit of dopamine. It comes on quickly, then goes away just as fast. Think along the lines of eating your favorite junk food, shopping for fun, having a drink, watching your favorite TV show, etc. It usually does not involve much effort, and the reward is immediate.
Happiness, on the other hand, can only be achieved on a much larger time scale. It takes considerate planning and effort. A result of cumulative positive steps, taken over a long span. Examples are having a successful career or business, a loving marriage, or a healthy body and mind.
Pleasure is direct, you get exactly what you want, right away (ie. eat ice cream, feel good). Happiness is indirect, it’s a byproduct of doing something right for a long time (ie. building a business from scratch, work hard everyday, slowly build it up to a multi million corporation).
In other words, getting pleasure is relatively easy, while obtaining happiness takes much more effort.
The irony is that if you are spending most of your time in acquiring one of these two, you will not have the time or energy to get the other.
Therefore, you must choose.
Short term pleasure or long term happiness?
Most people would choose happiness if asked, but their day to day action point to the opposite choice.
Because delaying instant gratification is difficult. Often extremely so.
If we put in the hard work on a consistent basis, over a long term, in order to achieve a meaningful goal; we will consequently feel happy for doing so. No doubt this way takes much more effort and requires sacrificing many of the short term pleasures.
But it’s definitely worth it.