Pleasure vs Joy (And What George Lucas Says About Them)

With the weekend around the corner, some of us will have plans in the diary all ready to unfold, other may perhaps be taking the weekend as it comes, perhaps even having ‘a quiet one’.

For the latter group, without significant plans currently, you might have already started thinking about what you’ll be doing.

Will you be aiming for pleasure, or for joy?

“Urm, ok Jasraj, so what the hell does that even mean?…” A perfectly valid response – I’m referring back to The 3 Lifestyles post, which identified the ways of living that we all experience at different times.

One thing I have learnt is that pleasure, as good as it is at the time, is always only temporary and short-lived. The buzz/feeling/“high” that we get from it doesn’t last and certainly can’t exist all the time; if we went around with this ‘happy buzz’ feeling at all times, we certainly wouldn’t be human, and in fact it really wouldn’t be good for us (paradoxically).

A couple of examples:

e.g.1 I go to GBK, and I eat a nice burger and chips; it feels great, don’t get me wrong. One of my favourite meals, and especially when it’s coupled with a cool, refreshing drink or that Oreo milkshake. I feel on top of the world. “Does life get any better than this???” Well yes, it does actually. Fast forward a little, and I’ve now finished the burger. Chances are I feel full; I may have eaten too fast, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve also now noticed that the good feeling has gone, the pleasure has disappeared. Unless I could physically get another burger and experience the goodness in my mouth again (unlikely, as I would probably throw up), that’s it, good feeling gone.

e.g.2 I recently watched that film “Drive”, and now I really want a jacket like the one Ryan Gosling wore, because he’s a really cool dude. After some shopping around, I find just the one I want; no scorpion on the back, but hey, it’ll do, it looks similar enough. I buy it, and in my excitement I put it on right there and then and wear it around for the day. Man it feels good, I almost feel like Ryan himself! The next couple of times I wear it, not quite the same of that ‘first-wear’ feeling, but it still feels pretty darn good. Yet a week or two later, this feeling has either diminished significantly or disappeared completely. Guaranteed after 3–4 weeks and more wears, that’s it, gone. What gives, man?

Why does this happen?

Us humans are creatures of adaptation. It’s the same thing with a new car, or a new house. Quite often, with those things that give us initial pleasure, the next time round we find ourselves either needing more of the same thing to give us that same amount of pleasure, or an even bigger and even better ‘thing’ to make us feel good again. This can go on forever, the cycle will never end. I’m not saying that pleasure in itself is bad, and we should deny ourselves completely of those nice things that give us those nice little buzzes, but I would propose that the pleasure lifestyle in and of itself is not sustainable, nor is it healthy.

Let’s compare that to joy, which I see comprised of flow and meaningful pursuits.

A flow experience = conducting activities (often in line with our signature strengths) where we lose ourselves so completely that often, time just seems to disappear — hence “Woah, it’s been 3 hours, where did the time go?!”

A meaningful experience = carrying out an activity in the service of the community, of others (ideally using your signature strengths and virtues); i.e. something larger than you are

For example, you might find your flow playing a computer game, taking part in a tennis match, writing a poem, watching a film, riding your horse in a field, playing frisbee, the list goes on.

The best part is, the feeling of contentment and inner joy lasts not only during the activity itself, but also for hours, days, even weeks and years afterwards. There is growing evidence to support this but, even without the evidence, you most likely will be able to recall the last flow experience that you had, and feel those good feelings inside when you reflect on these memories. Note that these experiences themselves are different for everyone, you must find what gets you in the flow (i.e. I may get my flow from playing tennis, but that might not float your boat).

If you are struggling to figure out where you get your flow experiences from, I’d suggest you go out there and try new things and really figure out the stuff that you like. One good way is to go some place quiet all on your own, and really sit there for a good half hour and figure out what you liked doing as a child. Chances are, more often than not, you still like doing those things today. Bingo, you have your flow experiences.

Where you find both flow AND meaning, you really have hit the jackpot.

So, this weekend, have your fun and fulfil your temporary thrills, but make sure you make some time for your joy too. You’ll feel much better for it, both now and in the future.

PS. It is AMAZING how often some of the most successful people we read and hear about every day, advocate exactly the same thing. Just this week, I watched the below short speech by George Lucas legendary Star Wars & Indiana Jones creator. I’d recommend the whole thing, and listen to what he says in the last few minutes.

Hear what’s George Lucas has to say about “pleasure” and “joy”:

I watch a lot of videos and listen to a lot of speeches, and I come across this time and time again. Quite often, we hear this from entrepreneurs, visionaries, business leaders, artists, musicians, all of whom have really found their flow, followed their passions and are pursuing goals bigger than themselves, in the service of others. Many of them have plenty of riches behind them, and access to all of the pleasures they wanted, and yet they too advocate going for joy, rather than pleasure.

Happy weekend folks!


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