Is there a difference? Is one better than the other? And how will this help me?
The other day I caught the end of a radio interview with Arabella Douglas – an indigenous woman who was talking about the importance of a connection to a particular place in her life. She spoke of joy as being a state available to everyone – her example was taking a swim in the ocean. The feeling of water on your skin, the waves, the sunshine, is an experience everyone can have. In my understanding of her words, pleasure is a sensory state too - but one that’s not always available to everyone. As an example, consider going to a spa with girlfriends – the pleasure comes from the spa treatments, the joy from talking to your friends.
The concept really stuck with me so I googled the idea afterwards and found writer Zadie Smith has her own interpretation of the concept. For her, joy is a state that hurts – it is so good that you are always aware, either in the moment or coming out of it, that this thing is so wonderous that losing it is going to hurt a lot - and that losing the state is essentially inevitable. For her, joy is transient and her joy is bittersweet. Her pleasure is not as intense, but it is not tainted by the fear of loss either.
Paul Nolan, a professor of behaviour science, breaks down a person’s happiness as coming either from activities of pleasure, or those of ‘purpose’ – things we do that are worthwhile or meaningful, without necessarily being fun. While not being entertaining, there is opportunity for joy within purpose, because purpose connects you to what really matters to you in life. Charity work might not be fun in and of itself, but if you believe in helping others, then you can find joy in doing this work.
I watched journalist Peter Greste interviewed a couple of days after he was freed from imprisonment in Egypt. When asked what his plans were post-imprisonment, he responded along the lines of ‘I’ve got a lot of sunsets to catch up on. And looking up at the sky. Just seeing the sky.’ His words reminded me that there is both pleasure and joy to be had every day, in things we take for granted every day. It all depends on your mindset.
How do you live your life? Are you a pleasure person or a joy junkie? My research into this topic suggests that whether you prefer one or the other, your best chance at happiness is finding the balance between the two that works for you. Do you feel good about the balance of these two elements in your life? If you want more of either (or both!), consider the examples above. Plan some pleasurable activities – go see a great movie, get a massage. Or seek pleasure in the often overlooked yet wonderful aspects of life – tasty food, kind words. Find joy amongst drudgery by connecting to the deeper values that led you to undertake those unpleasant activities. Or track it down by going to the beach, watching a sunset, doing something nice for a stranger. There are opportunities to increase your pleasure, your joy and your happiness today, and most of it can come from changing your mind rather than your life.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.