Pleasure is short-term, addictive and selfish. It's taken, not given. It works on dopamine.
Happiness is long-term, additive and generous. It's giving, not taking. It works on serotonin.
This is not merely simple semantics. It's a fundamental difference in our brain wiring. Pleasure and happiness feel like they are substitutes for each other, different ways of getting the same thing. But they're not. Instead, they are things that are possible to get confused about in the short run, but in the long run, they couldn't be more different.
Both are cultural constructs. Both respond not only to direct, physical inputs (chemicals, illness) but more and more, to cultural ones, to the noise of comparisons and narratives.
Marketers usually sell pleasure. That's a shortcut to easy, repeated revenue. Getting someone hooked on the hit that comes from caffeine, tobacco, video or sugar is a business model. Lately, social media is using dopamine hits around fear and anger and short-term connection to build a new sort of addiction.
On the other hand, happiness is something that's difficult to purchase. It requires more patience, more planning and more confidence. It's possible to find happiness in the unhurried child's view of the world, but we're more likely to find it with a mature, mindful series of choices, most of which have to do with seeking out connection and generosity and avoiding the short-term dopamine hits of marketed pleasure.
More than ever before, we control our brains by controlling what we put into them. Choosing the media, the interactions, the stories and the substances we ingest changes what we experience. These inputs lead us to have a narrative, one that's supported by our craving for dopamine and the stories we tell ourselves. How could it be any other way?
Scratching an itch is a route to pleasure. Learning to productively live with an itch is part of happiness.
Perhaps we can do some hard work and choose happiness.
[HT to the first few minutes of this interview.]