Elderly couple holding bouquet of flowers while holding hands

The Difference Between Happiness and Pleasure

We tend to confuse happiness with pleasure. It’s probably the biggest misconception as we all are trying to look for happiness, but end up only finding pleasure. You might feel as though these are the same, but there’s a slight difference between the two. We’ve described happiness as a state of mind. Happiness is internally motivated, whereas pleasure is externally stimulated.


Pleasure is the thing that stimulates any one of our five senses. We emphasize pleasure because we emphasize our body. So when we’re eating that delicious dinner at our favorite restaurant, we’re not happy. We feel pleasure from the smells and the taste as soon as the food hits our tongues. Music doesn’t make us happy. It’s the sounds and the lyrics that are pleasurable to our ears. These moments of pleasure depend on an external source that doesn’t last forever, so we seek something new to capture a moment of pleasure. Sooner or later the song has to end. Pleasure also has a dark side. If we seek pleasure and become dependent on it, it can be the cause of addiction. Due to the pleasure received from whatever senses you are stimulating, you may label yourself something with a “-holic” at the end of it. A person who finds identity in their work becomes a workaholic, while someone who needs alcohol to function becomes an alcoholic.


Happiness, in contrast, is internal. It doesn’t depend on the five senses. Happiness is a longer experience that allows us to truly appreciate life. When someone is satisfied and that satisfaction is shown through the evidence of good mental health, that individual tends to be happy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is perfect. There could be bad days, yet the happy person can take a broader perspective on life and be grateful for the many blessings that this person has incurred. The negative emotions don’t matter because we’ve moved beyond emotion itself. It can be the case that a happy person can eat that meal and still be happy once that meal is done because their happiness comes from a place that’s deeper than the food on their plate.

When we look for happiness, we’re not looking for an adrenaline rush of pleasure. The exact time of pleasure you get when you drink that sugar-laden latte only to crash at 2 pm. We’re looking for something a bit more sustainable. We’re looking for inner peace. Inner happiness (or contentment) leads to inner peace. When we’re able to free our minds from the constant negativity that we are so used to enduring, and remove ourselves from the desires of pleasure, we can enter into a state that brings us joy, peace, and happiness. There is nothing wrong with pleasure, but toxicity enters once we believe that pleasure is going to be our salvation. I’ll only be happy when I have sex, or drink that beer when I get home. I can only be happy if I smoke a little weed. We can never find happiness in these external stimulations.