On a recent retreat, Lorn Hoff mentioned pleasure vs joy in passing. I thought it would be worth exploring this further.
Pleasure is associated with the 2nd chakra, our animal nature, emotions, sex, and the water element. (Desire can add fire.)
Pleasure is very enjoyable but is only ever short term. If we chase pleasure, it can lead to excess. Moderation is key or we fall into addictions, attachment, and so forth.
We may seek pleasure to gain happiness but this is folly.
In contrast, joy can become ongoing and create lasting benefit. If we explore what makes us happy rather than what stimulates our desires, we can find lasting fulfillment. This is why Joseph Campbell suggested “follow your bliss.”
When you say “I like…”, do you mean what gives you pleasure or joy? There’s a big difference between saying “I like Greek food” and “I like meaningful work.”
Pleasure does bring richness to life but if it’s not backed up by happiness, that richness will be unreliable. This seeds attachment and resistance leading to suffering. For example, we may enjoy dancing but if we stay out late overdoing, we’ll suffer the next day. A rich meal may bring pleasure to our senses but can upset the stomach and make us sluggish. Shopping may bring us short-term pleasure but if we can’t afford the purchase or it detracts from our goals, it becomes self-defeating. The net result of excess is suffering, not joy.
The monkey wrench is unresolved emotional pain. This creates a blanket over happiness. All too often, we compensate by seeking pleasure. Yet because of that addictive quality, there is then the tendency to overdo. Alas, the more we chase pleasure, the more we need to satisfy the itch. This reinforces its addictive qualities. Eventually it stops satisfying. And yet we may continue to chase it. Life’s richness dries up and we can become a reactive bundle of unmet needs.
We’re also surrounded by a culture that represses emotions and pushes pleasure as a solution. Comfort food, escape, and owning stuff. But what’s driving the bus? Do you possess your possessions or do they possess you? Advertising constantly appeals to our unmet needs. But this is not the path to anyone’s happiness.
The key is becoming conscious of these dynamics in ourselves. What triggers our reactive behaviour? When do we reach for the sweets or go shopping? When we can see the drivers and our patterns, we can heal our wounds. If we recognize the consequences of our choices, we can make better ones. If we follow our bliss (not pleasure) we’ll find the “happiness for no reason” within.
Moderation is the rule for pleasure. Less is more. Then we can enjoy without suffering. We can go dancing more often if we set healthy boundaries. If we can eat healthy foods we like, we make the body happy. We can follow a sensible budget that leads to long-term wealth. This is maturity.
If this seems unsatisfying, it’s not because of the lack of pleasure but lack of happiness. When happiness is present, moderate and simple things will bring pleasure without entanglement.
Happiness itself is innate. But we will not find lasting joy “out there” in people or things. Happiness is within and always present under the mind and emotions. If we can thin the clouds of unresolved emotions, it will become always present for us. When it’s reliable, there is no attachment. Joy is also pleasurable without binding.
The world around us is being recreated in every moment. Happiness is another way of experiencing this. That fine vibration of becoming is bliss. The world arises from bliss. Bliss is a way of experiencing our life force that keeps your heart beating and the world existing.
When happiness is present, quietly or loudly, it brings with it lasting satisfaction and well-being.
Find what makes you truly happy. If you’ve lost that, look to what brought you joy in your childhood. Follow where it leads you. That’s why you’re here. Find the fount of bliss within. That’s where you come from.