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Pleasure Or Happiness? ~ Self-Wisdom Newsletter ~ issue 4

Pleasure Or Happiness? ~ Self-Wisdom Newsletter ~ issue 4


Self-Wisdom Newsletter

issue 4

Pleasure Or Happiness?

By Anna Elena Berlin, Certified Well-Being Coach/Writer/Author/Wisen-Up.com

Ever wondered why some things that feel good are good for you, and other things that feel good are bad for you?

We have a reward system that is so important that without it we would not want to be alive. Nothing less than the survival of our species depends on it, according to Robert Lustig MD, MSL, a renowned neuroendocrinologist that studies the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system. His research has determined that reward and contentment are not the same thing, but that reward and pleasure are synonyms. However, people confuse reward and pleasure with contentment and happiness all the time.

We need to know their differences to better understand the world and how it can manipulate us and cause us misery. There are seven differences and if we know them we can avoid the things that make us unhappy.

  1. Pleasure is short term like enjoying ice cream, and happiness is long term like having a satisfying life
  2. Pleasure is visceral and felt in the body, happiness is ethereal and felt in your mind
  3. Pleasure is taken like a gambling win, happiness is given like Habitat for Humanity
  4. Pleasure is achieved alone, happiness is achieved in social groups
  5. Pleasure is achieved with substances, happiness is not
  6. Pleasure is addictive and creates all of the --holics, like alcoholic, shopaholic, and foodaholic, while happiness is not addictive
  7. Pleasure creates dopamine, and happiness creates serotonin

Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that brings a sense of temporary pleasure. But, the body has a tolerance to it which means you need more stimulation to get less pleasure which creates an environment for addiction. On the other hand, serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and you can’t overdose on too much happiness. Dopamine down regulates serotonin, so the more pleasure you seek the more unhappy you get. This is the reason too many people keep trying to feel good through pleasure, thinking that it will bring them happiness when it does the opposite. 

Knowing the difference between reward and contentment, and between pleasure and happiness has eluded most of us because mainstream marketing makes them all seem the same. If you don’t know the difference you may continue to seek reward to uplift your life until it brings you misery. That’s because dopamine is powerful, it says, “This feels good, I want more.” By contrast serotonin says, “This feels good, I don’t want or need anymore.” 

The third essential component to this pathway is the stress hormone cortisol which works on the brain’s prefrontal cortex. If yours is dysfunctional you may only live for the present moment because you need your reward now. It’s the combination of dopamine and cortisol that results in addiction. It turns out that reward is good, but reward plus stress is not. This is your wake up call, because most of us have chronic stress that makes us need to have reward, which sets us up to get addicted.

Like dopamine, cortisol also down regulates serotonin by making less of it with fewer receptors for it. This causes depression which happens under the influence of chronic stress. The problem is there is so much more now than there was 50 years ago due to the onslaught of information available 24/7 on the internet and TV. 

It’s clear that this added modern stress is driving the increase in chronic health diseases and disorders that are lowering life expectancy more every year. We humans are at the mercy of our own judgment all the time. We choose what we put in our minds and bodies based on our belief that those things are not harmful to us. But the ugly truth is that this belief is highly flawed. To save us from ourselves we need to ask if the pleasure oriented habits we indulge in to compensate us for enduring our chronically stressed lives are actually in our best interest. Especially since avoiding constant chronic stress is always the better choice.

May you be wise, Anna Elena Berlin


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