The words pleasure, happiness and joy are used almost interchangeably in today’s society. “I am pleased to meet you,” a person might say, or “I am happy to meet you”: they mean the same thing. However, this is not always the case. Pleasure, happiness and joy can be three different things, come from differing sources and stay for varying lengths of time. Confusing the three is a dangerous thing, as pursuit of one while ignoring the others can lead to heartache.
Pleasure is simple, easy to attain, but disappears quickly. It is, perhaps, the easiest to understand and the easiest to mistake for others of these three feelings. We all know what pleasure feels like, or enjoyment. We have all had fun at one point in our lives or another. Pleasure can be a component of both happiness and joy, but it is not the same as them. Pleasure is shallow. Fun and enjoyable, but shallow and fleeting. A good example of pleasure is an orgasm. Sex and relationships are a great source of pleasure, happiness and, if you are lucky, joy. An orgasm is, by definition, pleasurable. But, also by definition, an orgasm is short. The pleasure from an orgasm lasts only a short while. A sex-buddy or friends-with-benefits type of relationship is a relationship based on pleasure alone; ergo, it is a shallow relationship. There are many sources of easy pleasure in the world: drugs, alcohol, chocolate, video games. They bring pleasure, but the positive feelings they bring do not last. It is the pursuit of this type of pleasure while ignoring the possibility of finding happiness and joy that has led to societal issues. Drugs bring pleasure, but overuse leads to destructive addictions. Chocolate brings pleasure, but over-consumption leads to obesity.
Happiness is more complex, deeper and longer-lasting than pleasure. Happiness is what we seek when we go on our very first date, when we are young and naive, unscarred by relationships past. On your first date, you are not concerned about sex; you are, perhaps, anxious about holding hands. Our first, awkward attempts at romance are not focussed on the pure pursuit of sex. We are seeking out what brings pleasure while trying to figure out happiness. Most of us, however, get so caught up in the pleasure aspect that we forget about happiness. As we age, accrue heartbreak and cynicism, and we drift even further from this pursuit. We begin to believe that happiness does not and cannot exist--not for us, anyway. In a relationship based on pleasure, the only positive feelings come from pleasurable acts, such as sex. In a relationship based on happiness, the positive feelings last beyond said acts. The acts are an icing on the cake of the enjoyable relationship.
Which is not to say that relationships are the only source of happiness. We can gain it from our jobs. If you are doing a job that you love, that provides fulfillment, that you feel is your calling, that job brings you happiness. But this too, becomes tainted over time. No job is truly perfect all of the time. We have bad days. This is the difference between happiness and joy: happiness can change, it can go away for a while. Joy lasts. By its very definition, joy lasts.
Joy is complex, deep and difficult to understand. Joy comes from within; it has no trigger. It has no outside source, no limits and it never leaves once you find it. Joy is the feeling you get when you are having an absolutely terrible day, but can keep a positive outlook. It is easiest to define joy by its opposite: despair. Lack of joy, as well as lack of hope that you might find joy, is what makes people commit suicide. Lack of joy, lack of any joy at all, kills your capability for happiness and even pleasure. Joy can come from having a purpose in life. But the single best source of joy is a religion. You can tie your joy to a god or other being greater than yourself. Atheists can have joy as well, but the easiest source of it is religion. A person who has joy can remain happy, optimistic--in a word, joyful--in the face of crushing odds, as the world crumbles around them. It is not a good idea to attach your joy to another person - they will let you down eventually. This is why a god is so useful.