Seek Happiness, Not Pleasure: The Difference Between Happiness and Pleasure & How to Keep Your Mood Leveled

photo of a man sitting under the tree
Photo by Samuel Silitonga on

It is easy to confuse pleasure with happiness as they both feel very similar.  If people sit down to a delicious meal at their favorite restaurant, are they feeling happiness or pleasure?  What if you unwrap a gift during the holidays and find it’s exactly what you wanted?  Pleasure or happiness?  Or maybe you come home after a long week of work and your partner is waiting for you with a glass of wine and a good movie ready to go?  Before I discuss ways on how to find happiness, it is important to understand the difference between pleasure and happiness.

What is pleasure?

Pleasure is produced when the neurotransmitter, dopamine is released in the brain.  It is the “feel good” neurotransmitter which is why people continue to chase it.  This is also why, in psychology, it is called the “reward pathway” in the brain.  For instance, when you have sex, eat your favorite food, gamble, use any sort of drug, open up a gift, or even gossip, dopamine is released in your brain and pleasure is produced.  Since the experience feels good, you go after them again…and again…and again.  It gets to a point that the thought or anticipation of the experience can release dopamine.  However, once the experience ends, so does the feeling of pleasure, only leaving you wanting more.  Pleasure is short lived.  It doesn’t last long and can ultimately be unhealthy if it leads to addictive behaviors (ie: drug, sex, gambling, food addictions).

What is happiness?

Happiness is produced when the neurotransmitter, serotonin is released in the brain.  When people feel happiness, they are at an even keel for an extended period of time.  Their mood is level and they are feeling good about their life.  You may feel happy with life at home, at work, or where you are in life.  For example, if you are sitting around a table full of family and friends during the holidays, you may pause, reflect, and experience happiness since you are surrounded by people you love.  This feeling will most likely last through dinner and for the remainder of the night.

What is the difference between pleasure and happiness?

Although they feel similar, there are a good amount of differences between pleasure and happiness.  Some of these differences are listed below:


Short lived

Dopamine is released

Serves as a “reward.”  As a result, you may continue to seek it.

Can lead to unhealthy addictive behaviors


Lasts longer

Serotonin is released

No reward is present.  It serves as a result.

Mood is level

How to seek happiness?

People often ask what the secret to happiness is.  In my opinion, this can be different for everyone depending on what you are looking for in life.  And there is plenty to find!  A good place to start is to imagine how you would want your life to look like when you wake up in the morning.  Do you want to surround yourself with people or would you prefer to go for a run with your dog?  Would you stay in bed and snuggle your partner for 15 minutes or would you enjoy sitting together on your porch and talking instead?  Do you prefer to work at a job around other co-workers you really connect with or would you rather be an entrepreneur and have more flexibility in your day?  What would you do if you had that flexibility?  There are no secrets to finding happiness since it is different for all.  What works for some people may not work for others.  However, the path to happiness is rarely short and there is no quick route to getting there.  This is not the case for pleasure, which means if you continue to seek it, you will realize that it will not lead to happiness as pleasure is its own separate path.  This will leave you feeling empty in the end since pleasure is short lived.  If you want to find happiness, start thinking about how you want to live your life.  Then, start taking the necessary steps to get there.  Start off small and work your way up.  Do what ultimately makes you happy as opposed to chasing a temporary reward.

What if I can’t find happiness?

If you find yourself struggling to find happiness regardless of what you do, you may need to seek professional help.  This may be a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a combination of the two.  Life is challenging in general.  If you find that nothing you do brings you happiness, it is possible that there is also a chemical imbalance that is causing this, as opposed to life just being challenging in general.  A therapist can help you figure this out and also point you in the right direction.  Not only this, but they will stay on the path and walk alongside you as long as you need them to.  This will provide the support you need until you are able to find happiness.

We hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday and New Year, and that you find your happiness!


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