Pleasure V. Joy
I’m kind of nerdy, so in my spare time, I do nerdy things. Last month, my nerdy activity was watching Professor Cornell West give lectures at Dartmouth University on YouTube (this month’s nerdy activity is learning about mortuary science, but that is a blog post for another time).
During one lecture, where Dr. West was reviewing W.E.B. DuBois’s book The Souls of Black Folks, he brought up a fascinating topic. Dr. West said something along the lines that we are a joyless culture who are pleasure seekers. This basically means that we are constantly seeking cheap thrills, but in life we have no semblance of actual joy in this current generation.
Ever since I heard those prolific words spoken, my mind has not let the notion go. The reason for my rumination is because the idea felt so close to home. I am a deep thinker, so when I stroll down my social media timeline or socialize with the public face to face, I’m not hearing just what people are actually verbalizing or posting, I’m reading in-between the lines, seeking something more profound.
If you listen in hard enough, you will understand that all conversation has notes, colors, tastes, and flavors. If you lean into people close enough, you’ll never have to ask a person if they are having a bad day, you can literally hear it in their tone. If you care for people enough, you’ll never have to ask if a person is happy – the scent of their conversation will reveal it.
In the last maybe ten years, I’ve noticed something different about people in my social endeavors. I could never actually put my finger on the difference, but understood the shift to be negative. Something about most people has profoundly changed, yet I could never fully grasp what it was. But after Cornell’s lecture, I was hit with a revelation like a TON of bricks- most people are missing joy.
That’s right, the missing ingredient in society today is the internal happiness of joy. In our modern culture, we have traded joy for pleasure. To fully hone this conversation, let’s take some time to dig into the difference between pleasure and joy.
Pleasure V. Joy
For the sake of this post, I did a quick Google search for the definition of pleasure and joy. The results are quite interesting.
Pleasure is defined as : a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.
While Joy is defined as : a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.
The definitions looks similar, but this big difference here is the word “great”.
While pleasure includes satisfaction and enjoyment, joy is for all intent and purpose is a “greater” feeling. Yes, pleasure can be found in joy, but joy isn’t solely derived from pleasure. Joy is ‘great’ in it’s depth, in it’s breadth, and in it’s sheer staying power.
Pleasure on the other hand is fleeing.
When I think of the world pleasure, I think of any feeling that includes the five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Pleasure is a sensual word in the regard that it is something one experiences with the senses.
If I had to think of a great pleasurable experience – it would involve a porch swing on an earlier summer’s night, the smell of roses and honeysuckle, a good book, freshly squeezed lemonade, and a warm and gooey chocolate chip cookie. Do you see how all the senses are involved? The smell of the air, the sight of the book and experience of night, the feel of the summer breeze as one rocks gently back and forward on the swing, the sweet and sour tastes of the warm chocolate and icy lemonade, the feel of the wind caressing my skin, the smell of floral in the nighttime wafting under my nose. Even the sweet cadence of the crickets in the distance providing my ears with a love song.
Now, your turn. Think of the word “pleasure” then fantasize on a very pleasurable experience. Close your eyes and really think. How many of your senses were involved in the experience?
Notice that pleasurable things are easy – Tasting, touching, feeling, and seeing requires little effort. One can have a hundred pleasures a day, but what about joy?
When I think of my joyful experiences, pleasure is often involved, but the feeling is so much deeper.
Joy to me is writing a great blogpost and hearing back from others who enjoyed it and learned something. Joy was watching my nephew and niece spring forth into the world crying and healthy. Joy was walking across the stage to graduate after four long years of studying. Joy is loving someone deeply and somehow, they manage to love you in return. Joy is an answered prayer when you are in desperate need of a miracle.
Moments of joy are certainly experienced at the level of the senses, but the gratification just last longer. After my pleasurable moment, the cookie was eaten, the lemonade drank, the flowers withered, the book was finished, the crickets went to bed, and the sun rose. I paid maybe $10 for the experience and it faded by morning light. However, my joyful experiences cost what money can not buy.
Graduation costs me late nights, early mornings, and hard days. Watching my sister go through nine months of pregnancy and almost lose both babies in childbirth cost me something emotionally. Writing all night, researching, and editing a blogpost usually costs me six hours typing and a few hours of needed sleep. Coming to the point of love in every relationship comes with reciprocity and compromise. Praying and truly crying out to God costs my spirit something.
Joy, unlike pleasure, isn’t cheap. Joy is earned over sometimes a course of years, but felt on a very deep level. Though my niece and nephew are growing up and my high school diploma and college degree are aging on the shelf, they all still bring me joy. My joyful experiences don’t expire, rather grow with each passing year. Joy is long lasting and sturdy.
Of joy and pleasure, joy is always the better option, but why then is our society missing joy?
Why Our Generation Chooses Pleasure over Joy
We are living in an era of instant gratification. Most of us grew up with a microwave and that easement has become the new model of our society.
Everyday some new invention comes to the market. These inventions not only add convivence to our busy schedules, but also bring us quick pleasure:
- You don’t need to waste gas to go to the movie theater, just watch the Netflix premiere on the couch.
- You don’t need to make friends in reality when you can have 1,000 on social media without the drama of relationship and proximity.
- You don’t need to wait on a serious loving relationship when you can easily swipe right and hook-up on the newest dating website.
- You don’t need to wait at a restaurant or cook a meal- have Door Dash
- You don’t even need to meet with your friends or family – just Zoom them up!
From the article I wrote on behavioral economics, we know that the human brain enjoys quick bursts of “happy hormones” provided by noncomplex pleasurable experiences.
In the process of so much pleasure, we have lost joy because pleasure is easier. Little did we realize so many little pleasures come with a price.
Life Without Joy
Joy is found in relational intimacy with others, Joy is found in in-depth conversation. Joy, to quote the singer Prince, is found in repetition. Little things done over and over again until one reaches a goal.
Motherhood is feeding the same baby the same milk over and over again – but there is joy there. Friendship is talking to the same person for a number of years often about the same things – but there is joy there. Finishing school often involves going to the same building for years and years until graduation- but there is joy there.
Joy isn’t cheap and quick fixes, joy comes with effort. In our love of convenience and ease, we as a society have ruled out joy completely. Suicide rates are rising, Divorce rates are rising, abortion rates are rising. . . . even recently COVID-19 rates are rising simply because we desire the thrills of quick pleasure over the dedication of deep lasting internal joy.
I think most of our population is living out their existence depressed, anxious, and medicated because we have abused pleasure and starved ourselves of the vital nutrient JOY.
So What Will We Do?
So what to do about the Joy crisis? I don’t know. It’s your life, you decide. But today and forevermore, I. Choose. Joy.
Extra Credit Opportunity: If you would like to score a few more points on your search toward joy, then please read this article written by David Finch on Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-journal-best-practices/201305/the-pleasure-trap
Deep even deeper on how to actually spark joy, with this post from the Happy Project – https://happyproject.in/love-joy/