It’s tempting to think that pleasure leads to happiness, but in many cases that is not true. Just look at those who use a drug to induce pleasure and how over time their ability to feel happy or fulfilled suffers. The result usually being that the person uses more of the drug thinking that the short term pleasure or escape from the lack of pleasure that the drug induces will lead to long term happiness. Again a mistake in thinking. Primarily because drug use leads to habituation and desensitisation requiring more of the drug to get the same effect.
Research into how the neuro-chemicals work in the brain goes part way to explaining why.
It starts with the following observation…
Dopamine is responsible for pleasure.
Serotonin is responsible for happiness.
Pleasurable activities cause a dopamine hit in the brain that if sufficient, causes the death of neural cells in the brain due to overstimulation. This leads to cells surrounding the dead cell to desensitise in order to protect themselves from the same stimulation. Thus requiring a higher amount of stimulation next time and leading to addictive cravings toward whatever caused the overstimulation. We are by nature programmed to seek more of what feels good.
Corporations take advantage of this fact about dopamine and design their products accordingly. Purposely engineered effects on FB and gmail are examples.., as is of course sugar content and caffeine in foods and drinks.
Serotonin doesn’t behave like dopamine.., the cells stay alive.
There is a small chance of serotonin overdose but it’s rare. Under normal circumstances you can’t overdose on happiness.
But.., the increase in dopamine by overstimulation doesn’t just lead to addictive qualities.., it also suppresses Serotonin. And serotonin is the main chemical responsible for long term happiness (hence the target of anti depressant drugs).
So the more we seek short term pleasure.., the more we risk long term unhappiness. For many.., the result is addiction or depression or both.
The reward centre in the brain can link pleasure to anything.., shopping, sex, gambling, coffee, drugs, alcohol etc.
Using alternatives like sunlight exposure or photic brainwave entrainment we can give ourselves higher levels of serotonin coupled with higher brainwave states typical of good feelings. And dopamine producing activities when managed correctly have little risk of producing the addictive responses of drugs.
In fact one of the latest trends is to go on a dopamine fast. IE: Cutting out reward type experiences for a period of time in order to ‘reset’ your pleasure level abilities.
Good to know then that pleasure and happiness are not the same thing.