Sometimes, the search for happiness is reduced to a simple conceptual question. Before asking yourself if you are happy, you should try and know what exactly happiness is. The truth is that many of the things we colloquially describe as happiness are mere substitutes, white label imitations, low-quality photocopies.
The problem transcends the linguistic and affects the social. It has not been the academics of the RAE who have not agreed on the concept of happiness; not even psychologists, who also have a fairly concrete definition of this feeling. It is society that has made a mess.
Pleasure is a specific and punctual feeling of well-being, a feeling of euphoria generated by the satisfaction of a necessity. Better said, of what we conceive as a necessity. On the contrary, happiness is a stable state of mind in the medium and long term, a kind of serene joy.
In our society, pleasure and happiness are often mixed. They have in common that they produce pleasurable feelings that are determined by hormones: dopamine (which we associate with euphoria) in the case of pleasure and serotonin (related to calm) in the case of happiness. But the similarities stop there. Pleasure is individual and happiness, shared; pleasure is visceral and happiness, ethereal; Pleasure is addictive and brief and happiness does not get stuck and stays long term. But the most striking thing is that both states are exclusive. Dopamine and serotonin are, according to various studies, incompatible substances: when our body secretes one, it reduces the other.
That's why we have to note the difference between happiness and pleasure. Both are important, but different. Pleasure would be represented by the products. Buying products can produce pleasure, an ephemeral pleasure that disappears the day after buying the fashion smartphone, the jacket of the season or the most luxurious car on the market. And what is more alarming, that pleasure is addictive and we become more and more immune to it, an effect similar to that of the drugs that the experts have come to call the hedonic wheel.
Tips to achieve happiness without pleasure
This is the reason why different authors and psychologists have proposed to separate both concepts in a radical way. It is not about demonizing pleasure, but about understanding that through it we will not necessarily achieve happiness.
To portray a more carnal and less mercantilist example, a night of sex can provide pleasure and a lasting relationship can provide happiness. One produces euphoria and the other, a serene happiness. It's not one thing is better than the other per se, it´s simply that they are different; It would be absurd to seek the realization that can provide a stable relationship by concatenating sex nights with different partners. It would make more sense to seek happiness in friendships, work environment or personal growth, to name a few fields. This example, which seems so obvious in the sexual and sentimental field, fades into clarity when transferred to other aspects of life.
In his book The Hacking of the American Mind, the endocrinologist Robert Lustig defends that we have a dependence on dopamine, that is, pleasure. We are, according to Lustig, a hedonistic society, but not necessarily happy. The doctor proposes in this essay tips to achieve happiness, and they all suppose reprogramming ourselves to reduce this dependence on pleasure, increase our serotonin levels to reduce dopamine, or what is the same, get more happiness to need less pleasure. How? With what he calls the “four Cs”: that is, connect, contribute, take care of and cook.
When Lustig talks about connection he´s not referring -of course- to fiber optic nor 5G, but to connecting with our friends, our relatives. And it should be done in person. The smiley emoticons of WhatsApp and the exultant hearts of Instagram have no remotely similar effect. Face-to-face interaction with other people is one of the greatest sources of happiness that exist.
The second tip to achieve happiness also has a social component. It's about contributing. While pleasure is based above all on receiving, a key element to achieve happiness is to give. Helping a person, or a cause, can make us feel happier and fulfilled. Even when not expecting anything in return, something will be obtained, even if it is “just” satisfaction.
We now come to the part where happiness and pleasure coincide. Taking care of yourself is basic to be happy. Just as lack of sleep, stress or hunger can generate unhappiness, the satisfaction of these needs is a necessary pillar to achieve happiness.
Something more specific is the last of the Cs that serve as a tip to achieve happiness: cooking. A healthy and balanced diet not only can lead us to avoid diseases and maintain our figure, but it can be a source of happiness. Being Robert Lustig an endocrine, he was one of the first to ask for a tax rate on sugary drinks and has made the fight against sugar and processed a personal one. On the other hand, Lustig defends that healthy foods can produce beneficial effects not only on our body, but on our mind. And cooking them ourselves can be a way to connect, to distract ourselves and to look for new hobbies. And perhaps in the process, following these tips, we will find happiness.