Happiness vs. Pleasure: The Source of Our Discontent?

Happiness vs. Pleasure: The Source of Our Discontent?

As someone who speaks and writes A LOT about happiness, I spend a significant amount of time busting myths and misconceptions.

And one of them is that we can’t be happy ALL the time; that wouldn’t, quite simply, be normal or healthy.

I also spend a lot of time DEFINING happiness and helping people understand the different components that make up a good life, including the different forms of positive emotion.

Too often, too many focus just on fun and pleasure. These are important but not everything …

via Psychology Today by David Roger Clawson


  • We confuse pleasure and happiness because both feel good.
  • Culture plays a major role in the confusion, urging us to search for one when we really want the other.
  • Pleasure and happiness have different physiological underpinnings.
  • Pleasure is fueled by dopamine and can give rise to addiction; happiness is linked to serotonin and connection.

Understanding our feelings can be challenging, but it is necessary for our health and wellness. Using language to describe the sensations and emotions we call feelings is limiting, as our feelings are so subjective and abstract in their nature.

However, neuroscience concepts offer a way to describe the differences in our feelings and ultimately a better understanding of our goals for health and wellness. Examining our feelings of happiness and pleasure can shed some light on how we can be happier and healthier as individuals and as a society.

Happiness and Neurotransmitters

Physiologically, happiness is distinct from pleasure, but the two are easily confused, as they both feel good. Happiness is primarily mediated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and the parasympathetic nervous system. Happiness can be associated with high levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin (connection) and gamma amino butyric acid (GABA, relaxation), as well.

Notably, happiness can occur in the absence of dopamine, the absence of the need to move, do and seek. Happiness occurs only in a state of safety. Satisfaction and contentment are better descriptors of happiness than pleasure.

Pleasure and Neurotransmitters

Pleasure, on the other hand, is primarily meditated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter most known for mobilization, approach, motivation, curiosity, and reward, goal and pleasure seeking. Dopamine is a major signaler in the sympathetic nervous system. In states of safety, dopamine can move us to confidence and connection. However, in states of threat, dopamine can move us to conflict and aggression.

If we achieve what we want in either of these physiologic states, then we get a little more dopamine and a little more pleasure. Our emotions and behaviors are reinforced; We will seek to replicate the strategies we deployed…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE