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The Three Categories of Happiness: Pleasure, Satisfaction, and Joy



Defining happiness falls into three different categories, the third of which is often seen as the most important, because it doesn’t depend on an outside source to incite it. Before going any further, I will briefly summarise them.

Pleasure: A calm, loving, peaceful state. You receive pleasure from a source separate to yourself, activated through your senses. It may be the glorious smell of the pulled pork that you have been slowly cooking for the last six hours, or the fantastic sounds of the Beatles, singing about Rocky Raccoon. You might be relishing the phenomenal flavours of the sensational bottle of Côte-Rôtie  that you have just opened after keeping it locked away in your cellar for the last fifteen years. Or you might be re-watching your cherished, original copy of the film Point Break, knowing that its remake has almost ruined the idea of surfing.


The one thing about pleasure, though, is that it is completely subjective. My idea of heaven could very easily be your idea of hell and you may very well not have had a clue what I was just describing. Pleasure is reliant on a ‘stimulus response’ variable; without the stimulus, you don’t achieve any response and so pleasure is only available once certain criteria have been fulfilled. It is also very limited and it’s an effect that will wear off as soon as the dopamine hit tapers away.


Satisfaction: Like pleasure, satisfaction is only activated through a cause and effect variable. It can be switched on by ‘getting what you want’ and is often associated with contentment and fulfilment. You can be satisfied with your life, or with your job, or with your new car.

Similar to pleasure, it is also completely subjective and so my satisfaction with last night’s Indian takeaway could very easily be your dissatisfaction. To be satisfied is obviously never a bad thing and by developing and enhancing our awarenesses, and through learning and growing, we are in effect activating an upward trajectory of increased gratitude and heightened receptivity. Being grateful for something has an incredibly positive effect on how we associate ourselves with whatever or whoever provided us with the offering, so it is very important to make mental notes of all for which you are grateful.

Satisfaction only occurs when all the variables have been fulfilled. You have to be in the right frame of mind to express satisfaction, so it is dependent on your mental state, which can very often limit your access to its beneficial effects.

Joy: This is quite probably one of the hardest things to define. Only by focusing on its true meaning and accessing my past memories of pure unadulterated peace, joy and love, can I begin to unravel its essence.

I have found that, like both pleasure and satisfaction, joy can be experienced through all your physical senses. It can also be experienced both mentally and emotionally, at a much deeper and more profound level than either satisfaction or pleasure. It is peace, love, tranquillity, freedom, presence, life and laughter all rolled into one. It is the epitome of all that is good and it is something that has the power to end suffering. It is the peak of what happiness is all about.


The Oxford English Dictionary merely defines joy as either great happiness, or a person or thing that causes happiness. It goes on to exemplify its meaning by stating ‘They were filled with joy when their first child was born’, which, as clichéd as it sounds, and although I have not yet had the opportunity to father a child, is something I hear from all of my friends who have become parents. It also uses as an example, ‘She wept for joy when she was told that her husband was still alive’, indicating that joy is an immense feeling of relief, as well as love and happiness.

All of these descriptions and examples of joy only really touch the surface of this bountiful feeling. Although I can easily recall such vivid and insightful feelings and I am sure you can too, putting them into words is nigh on impossible. We all have these feelings, so I ask you to recall your most poignant moments of joy and create a commemorative illustration of it, through whatever means possible. Maybe write about it, or create a poem, or put it into music, perhaps draw a picture of how you see it. Once you have evolved it into something tangible, use whatever you have created as a focus point for meditating and notice your life slowly start to brighten.

By harnessing these happiness-inducing compounds, you’re halfway there. But don’t just count on them to make you as happy as you should be. The chemicals flow to your mind, the logical location of your happiness. Your mind then has the ability to store that happiness and dispense it accordingly to maintain your feeling of contentment. You don’t always need these chemicals to incite happiness but they certainly help to give it a head start.


Before discussing how you can dissipate your joy, it is very important you first understand that happiness is already present and within you, it’s within everybody. You do not need the fast cars, the massive lottery win or the perfect body before you can admit to being happy. All you need to know is how to activate it.

I read a very interesting fact in an article on happiness, about an experiment conducted with a new lottery winner and an individual who had recently become a paraplegic after being involved in an accident. The lottery winner was obviously incredibly happy immediately following the win; conversely, the accident victim was incredibly distraught following the injury. Interestingly, however, after two years, both the lottery winner and the accident victim had very similar score ratings for happiness. The lottery winner was still marginally higher but it is very sobering to know that once you have either come to terms with an incredibly positive or incredibly negative event in your life, it is your mind that has the power to control your happiness.


The fact that happiness can’t be earned (by those people we all say ‘deserve’ to be happy) or won (by our friend the lottery winner) demonstrates that it is not limited to being a ‘state of mind’. I would argue that calling it this gives it a temporary label. Happiness is, and has always been, in our true nature. It is something that every single one of us possesses and yet we keep it locked away for inordinate amounts of time because we often feel like we don’t deserve it and so we don’t let it out to flourish. And that’s one of the biggest reasons for not allowing ourselves to be happy. We don’t think that we deserve it. Isn’t that ridiculous? That, or people actually feel guilty for expressing their true selves for fear of offending the grumpy old man in the shop when they go to pick up their morning paper.


Guilt and a sense of unworthiness are restricting the majority of the population from being happy. That is sad but it is so true. I am not perfect, far from it, but I remember times when my disgusting moods have brought loved ones down to my level, because they felt uneasy and unworthy of their own happiness in my presence, so decided to sink into the pits of my despair. I am not saying that you should laugh at anyone whose day is not exactly going to plan, far from it, but you most definitely should not wallow in pity of other people’s gloom. Remember, happiness spreads and so does misery, so the best thing you can do is share your own happiness and resist being brought down by the unhappiness of those you could uplift.

A lot of the major points in the majority of my blogs can all work alongside each other, to help to strengthen each part of your new inner self. Here, you will once again be able to benefit greatly from mindfulness, to raise your awareness of the pure joy that is dormant within yourself, to tap into it, and also to impart the knowledge you have acquired from my blogs to help alleviate the pain for a loved one, or even a stray person you notice in distress.


As I mentioned before, do not allow yourself to be infiltrated by the malaise of the person in need; instead, help them to put their problem into perspective, through mindfully explaining the techniques set out in the 4 core mindfulness, meditation techniques blog. Then, allow them the space required to get control of their troubling woes. If, like most people to whom I try to introduce meditation, they tell you they’re too busy to do it and their mind is way too cluttered, anyway, remind them that their troubles are only as bad as they think they are. By allowing yourself to dwell on negative thoughts, you will only exaggerate the difficulty of the situation. Mindfulness is the starting point for slowly allowing happiness to take over.


I completely understand that you may very well be thinking that not all of life’s problems can be solved by diverting your mind and then meditating. You’re kind of right, you can’t actually fix practical things through this approach. The problems I am really talking about are those that can’t be put right by any force in the world: the death of a loved one; a painful breakup from the person with whom you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life. It is when facing these kinds of things that taking time out for yourself and then mindfully steering your thoughts away from the problem and back to (an albeit new) normality is imperative. Your thoughts are the issues you can fix, so remedy them.


(Focus on your breathing): your sensations, the sounds around you, and the peace you are now generating. It won’t be instantaneous but utilise every bit of peace you receive, and then allow that to form a clean plate for the reawakening of your happiness and joy. It is at this moment that you can utilise the happiness you once had for whatever or whomever you have lost and then welcome that feeling into your peaceful, loving state. You must remember to only bring the joy in, though, do not allow a memory in that will encroach on your happiness.


In a previous blog, I explained that through utilising the feeling of an intense love from the past, you could learn how to apply that love to yourself during meditation. This time, you’ll be calling on the memory and feeling of happiness that resulted from that past love, rather than the emotion itself.


I want to say it one last time, because this is the only way it will work: do not bring any negative emotion into your happy place, only joy. Laugh when you’re meditating, laugh when you’re thinking about the joy you received, but NEVER dwell. Laughter in itself will help you feel a whole lot better; it just so happens to release a truck load of dopamine into your system, to make you even happier. You’re just a happy person now. Congratulations.


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