Seeking Pleasure and The Pursuit of Happiness


Most people aspire to be happy and continuously try to find ways to achieve happiness. However, people do an extensive variety of things in pursuit of happiness. Some people might seek happiness from their surroundings — they go to an amusement park, watch a funny movie, or indulge in their favorite food. Others may focus on personal growth and improvement, such as exercising regularly and practicing mindfulness.

Sometimes, doing small things that make you happy, like having a hobby or eating your favorite food, can make you feel good. At other times, people go out of their way to achieve something meaningful to them. It might take more time, but they enjoy the process as they believe it brings happiness and satisfaction. 

So what activities should we pursue to be happy? Do people need to experience thrilling and fun activities to ultimately find happiness?

While individual differences and preferences might play a huge role in a person’s perception of happiness, being aware of the distinction between pleasure and happiness can help you make more intentional choices in the quest for happiness. People can then build a more rewarding and fulfilling life by giving precedence to actions and behaviors that enhance long-term happiness rather than just momentary pleasure.

In this article, the concepts of pleasure and happiness are explored, providing you with the distinction between the two and explaining how understanding this distinction can help you lead a life filled with joy and true happiness.

Definition of pleasure

Pleasure is often associated with hedonism and seeking out activities or experiences that bring us immediate gratification. And while there is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure from time to time, it is important to acknowledge that there is a distinction between pleasure and happiness.

In some cases, it can even be harmful to individuals who constantly seek pleasure from instant gratification. People who are always looking for pleasure can lose sight of other important things in their lives and feel empty when the pleasure wears off.

For example, sometimes people do things like abuse drugs or shop too much because they want to feel good without the deeper satisfaction that comes with happiness. Therefore, seeking pleasure will not always lead to greater life satisfaction and overall well-being.

Furthermore, scientists found that there is a happiness ceiling where the same activities or things that usually bring pleasure will no longer have the same effects. This phenomenon is related to the set-point theory, which explains several stabilizing factors that keep people close to their set point in happiness and subjective well-being. According to this theory, a person’s level of happiness is largely influenced by their personality, individual characteristics, and the life events they have experienced.

When people experience big life events, it can significantly increase positive emotions for a certain amount of time. However, the positive affect experienced is typically habituated and will soon return to normal.  This phenomenon is known as hedonic treadmill, where emotions go through similar processes as other sensory systems. 

Just as the sense of smell can quickly adapt so that certain scents disappear from one’s awareness, the human emotion system is also continuously adjusting to life circumstances and prior experiences.

A classic example of this is explored in a study about the happiness of lottery winners, where it is found that major lottery winners are not happier than the control group, despite the initial pleasure after winning the lottery.

Definition of happiness

If pleasure is mostly about feeling good and involves having positive experiences, happiness is more than just having fun; rather, it is a feeling of contentment that comes from achieving goals, connecting with others, and experiencing life’s beauty. 

While pleasure can be a part of happiness, it is essential to recognize that happiness is a broader concept that often involves a sense of meaning and purpose and a sense of belonging to something bigger than the self.

Happiness is a complex concept that has been studied and debated for centuries. It is a subjective experience that can be defined in various ways, depending on an individual’s values and beliefs. 

Some common definitions of happiness include a sense of well-being or contentment, positive emotions such as joy and pleasure, a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and general satisfaction with life. 

Other definitions emphasize the value of healthy relationships, individual development, and a sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself. 

While there are many theories of happiness, two of the most common approaches to understanding happiness are hedonic and eudaimonic views. Both theories acknowledge that happiness is an important part of human life, but they differ in how it is defined.

Hedonic approach

The hedonic approach defines happiness as the presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative ones. According to this approach, happiness is primarily related to the experience of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. While this definition is widely accepted, some critics argue that it ignores the importance of meaning and purpose in pursuing happiness.

Eudaimonic approach

Meanwhile, the eudaimonic view of happiness suggests that true happiness comes from having a sense of meaning in life and striving for personal growth. This type of well-being is often achieved by engaging in activities that bring pleasure, fulfillment, and purpose to one’s life.

Happiness vs. pleasure

Pleasure and happiness are two concepts that are often confused for the other. However, certain characteristics keep them distinct.


While pleasure is a feeling of satisfaction derived mostly from external sources, happiness is an internal feeling of contentment and joy. 


Pleasure is often associated with hedonism and seeking out activities or experiences that bring us immediate gratification. Conversely, happiness focuses more on finding long-term satisfaction and building meaningful relationships with others.

Sense of being

Enjoyment can contribute to happiness, but it is unnecessary to experience overall happiness and satisfaction in life. For example, work can be fulfilling and meaningful, even if it is not necessarily fun. The same applies to pursuing hobbies that may take a lot of time and effort, such as playing musical instruments, where dedication and practice are essential, but people who consider it a hobby still do it out of enjoyment.

Additionally, some medical or neurological conditions can make people less happy, but they may still feel better overall and be happier with their lives. This finding suggests that happiness is a more complex and nuanced experience than the mere pursuit of pleasure.  

In conclusion

In conclusion, while happiness and pleasure can overlap, they represent two distinct concepts. Happiness is a deeper sense of contentment and satisfaction that can bring lasting joy, while pleasure is fleeting and often short-lived. 

To cultivate lasting happiness, you can focus on developing positive habits and routines that support well-being, such as practicing self-care, setting goals, and prioritizing meaningful relationships. But keep in mind that the quest for happiness should not disregard the value of pleasure and satisfaction, which are also essential parts of life. The key is to embrace these experiences with mindfulness, appreciating the moment while also realizing that they cannot replace the deeper joy and fulfillment that come from living a life with purpose.

It’s important to pursue pleasure and happiness in balance and allow them to inform each other. With the knowledge that pleasure can only be beneficial for the short term, you can consciously decide how much time to dedicate to activities that bring instant gratification and put more effort into pursuing other aspects of life that lead to happiness and lasting contentment.

If you would like to know more about hedonic treadmill, check out the Happiness Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Happiness Science Labs.

happiness science labs

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