Do you think that having lots experiences of pleasure will make you happy? That’s an erroneous belief that gets people into trouble. Often when I ask clients if they’re happy, and why, those who say they are tell me about things they’re getting pleasure from:
• I’m happy because I have a new romantic partner.
• I’m happy because I lost 15 pounds.
• I’m happy because the weather has been lovely.
• I’m happy because my physical ailment isn’t acting up at the moment.
And so on. The trouble comes when those pleasurable circumstances change. Pleasure is something that feels good in the moment. But it can bring pain after. Eating a tub of ice cream will feel pleasurable to many people. But when you finish you may be left with negative feelings, like guilt or shame, for having eaten it, or, a tummy ache. And if you gain weight from your pleasure, you certainly won’t feel happy.
Of course there are many pleasurable things that can reinforce happiness—being with someone you care about, getting a massage, taking a vacation, a perfect weather day, etc. But it’s important to recognize the pleasurable things that reinforce happiness and those that don’t. That’s why happiness, not pleasure, should be your goal since sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the pleasurable activities that make you happy and those that hurt you.
Pleasure is not sustainable. The vacation will end, your loved one may not be around all the time, a delicious meal will be eaten and rainy days will eventually come. But when you’re a happy person on the inside, those things won’t make you unhappy or push you to seek something else that will give you pleasure. Happiness on the inside keeps you content. Things that give you pleasure can be like a side dish for happiness that makes you feel happier. But if the foundation of your happiness is pleasure then you may not be truly happy.
Marci Shimoff says, “When you’re happy for no reason, you’re unconditionally happy. It’s not that your life always looks perfect—it’s just that however it looks, you’ll still be happy.” Happiness that’s dependent on having pleasure won’t make you a happy person. Pleasure doesn’t create contentment inside, which happiness does. And happiness from the inside is the kind that sustains you when pleasurable things are gone.
Often pleasure is used like a bandage to make an unhappy life feel better. Depending on it can leave you down if the person giving you pleasures leaves or it rains or another source of pleasure goes away. Or the pleasure can being you unhappiness down the road. I had a client I’ll call Ben, who had jus moved to NY when he came to me. He considered himself a gourmet and was thrilled to be offered a high paying job here. He was extremely happy to be able to try all the great restaurants he’d heard about and kept saying how happy he was to be able to afford to eat out every day.
I didn’t hear from Ben for several months. When he called saying he was no longer happy. He’d been so wrapped up in his decadent eating that he didn’t realize he was gaining weight from it. His clothes didn’t fit him and he felt lousy. He was thinking of leaving NY. I helped him begin to build real happiness that didn’t depend on pleasure. As Ben learned to love himself he began to eat out less and exercise more. As he stopped looking to the pleasure of eating to make himself happy he began to be truly happy on the inside.
I love having pleasure! We all do. But use it to enhance your happiness, not to depend on pleasure to be happy. As you work on loving yourself and being happy in your own skin, you can slowly understand what true happiness is.
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