Hedonism: does pleasure equal happiness?

Although we often link pleasure to happiness, perhaps there is more separation between the two, do a build-up of pleasures truly bring us long-lasting happiness?

Whilst pleasures in life may bring us ‘feelings’ of happiness, like holidays, shopping, our favourite meals or drinking, these feelings may be short-lived and an example of hedonic happiness. Hedonic happiness refers to the Greek words hedonism meaning ‘pleasure’ and hedone meaning ‘sweet’. This suggests happiness which is pleasurable and sweet in the moment, but doesn’t suggest long-lasting contentment, like enjoying an ice-cream then getting to the bottom of the cone, only to feel the same as before you had it.

An example of hedonic happiness could be coming into a large sum of money, whilst the freedom of the money may allow us to indulge in pleasure and certainly ‘feel’ happy, we would probably, in the end, get used to it and go back to our original state of being happy or not. It’s no secret that people who have become rich and ‘successful’ have also been extremely unhappy and even suicidal, supporting the argument that pleasure can still not guarantee a lasting feeling of happiness.

Buddhist monks are a good example of eudaimonistic happiness, this type of happiness is referred to as “living a life of virtue” and seeking meaning and wisdom over pleasure. Buddhist monks reject a materialistic way of life and focus on the meaning and commitment of their life and are known to be extremely happy and peaceful, so what does this tell us?

In the modern world, it would seem we are programmed to seek pleasure over happiness. With social media, we are addicted to instant approval and pleasure from sharing and gaining insights on others, but even if we feel happy from receiving likes or nice comments, this is unlikely to bring any kind of lasting-happiness or life fulfilment. We also work in a way where 5 days a week we’re expected to withhold from pleasure, only to blow-out on the weekend with drinking, food, events and spending. But what happens on Sunday night when we know Monday is coming again, do we go back to feeling the exact same way as last Sunday night? Are we running off pleasure credits and not focusing on our overall happiness?

For many, we do need to follow the ‘system’ of Western culture in terms of working and getting by, there is nothing wrong with wanting pleasures in life and they are arguably a part of overall happiness. However, if we become wiser to what gives us pleasure in the moment, and what and WHO makes us fulfilled in a long-lasting, life-impacting way, this may just bring us closer to being truly, happy.

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