The less fun you have, the happier you are

It sounds contradictory that you could actually be happier if you experience less pleasure. But when you’re constantly trying to satisfy your needs, wants, and desires, and seeking pleasure, you may be happy in the short term, but are you happy in the long term? What does this actually mean; long-term happiness, and how can you obtain it?

  • Hedonism; short-term happiness
  • What does being happy actually mean?
  • Long-term happiness
  • First satisfying basic needs and then self-development: Maslow’s pyramid
  • Addicted to satisfying your needs
  • The less pleasure, the more happiness

Happiness is a difficult concept to define. Being happy is something that can be explained in different ways, but ultimately all descriptions lead to one and the same explanation. Namely that when you are happy, you feel good inside. You can feel happy because of a certain event; this is short-term happiness. You can also feel happy in the long run. This means that you feel happy because of the general circumstances that are happening in your life at that moment.

In some way everyone strives to be happy. Be it through a religion, or through no religion. Be it in the longer term, or in the shorter term. Everyone is looking for a way to feel happy in their lives. One person tries to adapt the way he feels as much as possible to the circumstances, and the other tries to adapt the circumstances as much as possible to the way he (prefers) to feel.

This constant search for a way to feel good is also called self-development. A theory accepted by many is Maslow’s theory. According to this theory, you can only achieve self-development when you have met all basic needs. But is this theory correct, or is it outdated?

Hedonism; short-term happiness

In our contemporary society it is considered normal to do as many fun things as possible as frequently as possible. When one has met one’s basic needs (eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.), one uses the time one has left; or the so-called ‘free time’, looking for fun things to do. Because people know that doing fun things makes you feel good. When you ask someone why he does a certain action, it is considered very normal when this person answers that he does it because he enjoys it.

What is hedonism

People who strive to experience as much pleasure as possible, and to meet their pleasure needs as quickly as possible, are also called hedonists. Hedonism is a philosophical doctrine that assumes that pleasure is the highest good, and therefore the pursuit of pleasure is the highest goal. The word hedonism takes us back to the ancient Greeks. ‘Hedone’ means pleasure in Greek. Hedonism is therefore not something that is necessarily of this time.

An important question within this philosophy is of course what pleasure exactly is, and what gives the most pleasure. Because pleasure is assessed differently by everyone and is a subjective concept.

Another important point within this philosophy is the extent to which pleasure trumps virtue. In other words: are you also allowed to enjoy something that may in some way be considered bad by others? Most people experience some sort of pleasure when they do something good for someone else. But how great is the pleasure you get from doing good deeds compared to other types of pleasure. And is pleasure really the driving force behind doing good deeds, and should we let it be the driving force?

So pleasure and virtue go well together in certain cases. Yet there are also examples in which this is not the case. Consider people who derive pleasure from someone else’s pain, so-called sadists. This last example is a dangerous one and inevitably calls into question the philosophy of hedonism…

Hedonism is good for the economy

Typical hedonists are people who live from day to day. They don’t worry about tomorrow. Being patient is not easy for hedonists, they prefer to satisfy their needs as quickly as possible. An excellent target group for mass producers; big companies.

Good examples of large companies cleverly responding to a growing percentage of hedonists are fast food chains. Instead of having to go shopping first and then having to spend a few hours in the kitchen, when you are hungry you would rather quickly buy something that you can eat immediately.

An even better example of a company that is responding to the increasing hedonism in today’s society is probably Coca-Cola. They have been successful for years with the motto ‘enjoy life’. In their commercials we see images of people enjoying life without a care in the world. By showing a can or bottle of Coca-Cola at the right times in these advertisements, they try to convey the image of ‘enjoy life’; or enjoying life without any worries, inextricably linked to their brand.

Because companies benefit from the fact that there are more and more hedonists, a kind of interaction arises. Companies are capitalizing on this fact, tailoring their products and advertisements to people with a hedonistic lifestyle, thus attracting even more hedonists.

Short term happiness

So it seems that people are increasingly looking for short-term happiness. People want to be able to satisfy their needs as quickly as possible, and preferably not have to look too far into the future. Partly because companies are responding to this trend, this so-called pursuit of short-term happiness is becoming increasingly the norm.

When you strive for short-term happiness, you always live, with the shortest possible interval, towards a moment when you can satisfy a need for pleasure. This will make you feel good, with the shortest possible interval, by satisfying this need for pleasure.

What does being happy actually mean?

This is the broadest essence of being happy; feeling good. However, there are many ways to feel happy. One person tries to be happy by meeting his needs as quickly as possible, while another tries to be happy by delaying the satisfaction of his needs.

To be happy; how do you do that?

It is said that the extent to which you feel happy is 30 to 40% hereditary. The remaining difference in the extent to which people are happy is said to arise from environmental influences. It would therefore partly be hereditary whether you become depressed easily, or whether you easily have a positive outlook on life. But is this also the case, or do you have much more influence on your state of mind?

Being happy is not something subjective, because everyone has different wishes and desires in different times. You can ensure that you feel happy by adjusting your life circumstances to meet your wishes and desires. You can also adapt your wishes and desires to your life circumstances.

You can speak of the so-called positive approach and the so-called negative approach to influence the extent to which you are happy. Where the positive approach assumes that you are happy when there are enough positive situations in your life, the negative approach assumes that you are happy when there are no negative situations. There are advantages and disadvantages to both ways. With the negative approach, you assume a lot of the negative, which means you will soon adopt a very negative attitude to life. It is not without reason that these people are often called cynics. With the positive approach there is a danger that you deny negative situations, or that you are not even aware of negative situations at all. When you can no longer ignore the negative situations that are naturally there anyway, they will become much more difficult to overcome.

The hedonistic paradox Many people try to adapt circumstances to their desires, wishes and needs in order to become happy. But this is not always possible, as you are not in control of everything in your life. From this follows the so-called hedonic paradox. Hedonism assumes that pleasure is the highest good, and when you satisfy your pleasure needs to the maximum, you will also achieve the highest form of happiness. The paradox of this is that you do not always have everything in your own hands, and therefore you will not always be able to satisfy all your wishes, needs and desires. If you strive to fully satisfy your needs, you will soon encounter disappointments, which will lead to the opposite of being happy.

The danger of short-term happiness

From the hedonistic paradox you can (indirectly) see the danger of mainly, or only, looking for short-term happiness. When you are constantly trying to satisfy your needs as quickly as possible, and you prefer to live from day to day, you close your eyes to the future, and therefore to reality. You can often maintain this way of life for a very long time, but sooner or later your eyes will open. When people around you want to make you aware of reality, you often do not want to listen to them, because you prefer your own reality to the reality that those around you present to you. Usually you have to fall into a hole yourself before you wake up.

There are people who, when they are not feeling well, instead of looking for a reason and a solution for this state of mind, prefer to try to suppress this state of mind that same day by experiencing pleasure. This way you will feel good for a while and forget your worries for a while. But this does not cure the bad state of mind. In some cases, one does not even know the reason for his bad state of mind. You can compare this situation with the positive approach to being happy, which denies the negative sides of life. However, the negative sides of life are still there. And sooner or later you will encounter them, but then it is often much more difficult to find a solution.

Behind (mainly) looking for short-term happiness lies the danger of falling into a kind of daze, and therefore ultimately ending up in a pitfall for which you were not prepared. It is often easier for some people than others to come out of this kind of daze. Young people in particular often live a so-called hedonistic lifestyle; they live from day to day, money is spent as quickly as possible, and pleasure is at the top of the wish list. Often, as one grows older, one automatically looks for a calmer, more balanced lifestyle. People gradually develop a greater need to be happy in the long term.

Long-term happiness

There are many ways in which long-term happiness can be achieved. It largely depends on your character how you look for long-term happiness. The way someone ultimately organizes their life is also often culture-related. However, the latter does not necessarily have to be the case.

Being happy in the long term means more than just wanting to feel happy all the time. When you are looking for long-term happiness, you are looking for a way in which you can also deal with setbacks. So you’re trying to find some kind of balance for your state of mind.

This search for a way to develop yourself with the aim of being happy and satisfied with yourself is also called self-development. One person looks for self-development through religion, the other through no religion. Some people look for a specific life theory or philosophy, such as humanism or Buddhism.

Happy are within Islam, Christianity and Judaism

Within most religions, including Islam, it is said that if you are on the right path and worship God in everything you do, you will also find peace with yourself. Pleasure satisfaction is generally seen as something earthly, and in many cases is seen as a distraction from the spiritual. It is not without reason that all three of these religions have a fasting period, which is intended, among other things, to learn to control your physical needs.

Because within these religions it is true that God is in total control, people believe less in being able to adjust circumstances in such a way that they become happier. Something can only happen when God wills it, and nothing can happen outside of God’s will.

Being happy in Buddhism

Even though Buddhism is not a religion but more of a life theory, within Buddhism people also strive to be satisfied with the way things are. Within Buddhism, satisfying physical needs and satisfying spiritual needs are seen as two separate things. By letting go of your ego and therefore your physical needs, you will be more able to satisfy your spiritual needs. When you have completely let go of your ego, you can achieve the highest possible state of mind. In this state of mind you will feel completely fulfilled, satisfied with the way things are going, and you will not suffer from negative emotions such as jealousy or aggression.

First satisfying basic needs and then self-development: Maslow’s pyramid

A theory used by many psychologists in our contemporary society is Maslow’s theory, also called the theory of increasing need. This theory assumes that if you do not meet your basic needs, you will never achieve self-development.

Source: Didius, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Maslow’s pyramid
According to Maslow’s theory, every person goes through a certain development of needs. He has depicted this structure of needs in a pyramid. The lowest needs in the pyramid are the most basic needs and the highest need is the need for self-fulfillment. No need can ever be skipped in the needs analysis. A person will therefore first have to meet the fundamental needs before he can focus on the less fundamental needs. According to Maslow, a person who is unable to satisfy his basic needs is psychologically incomplete.

Addicted to satisfying your needs

Something that we do not see in Maslow’s theory is minimizing your needs, as we see in Buddhism and in the three major world religions. Maslow’s theory assumes that all needs are essential, and that you cannot fully develop if you are not able to satisfy all your needs. But is this also true?

The more you satisfy your needs, the greater your needs become

Satisfying needs is, to a less extreme extent, the same as taking (hard) drugs. When you constantly make sure you satisfy your needs for a certain thing as quickly as possible, your body will need that something more and more. This not only works with the need for food and drink, but also with non-material needs, such as the need for pleasure.

You can draw a comparison with smoking cigarettes. Your body consists of all kinds of cells, and those cells have receptors. These receptors are a kind of receivers for substances that enter your body. When someone smokes their first cigarette, their receptors are not yet familiar with this substance and will therefore repel them. Because of this, most people do not like their first cigarette. Now, just in case you decide to try it again, your cells will develop receptors that are familiar with the cigarette phenomenon. This means that the second cigarette is better received by your body and you actually start to enjoy smoking cigarettes. The more cigarettes you smoke, the more you will have cells with receptors that are tuned to cigarettes. Because you now have more receptors that are attuned to receiving cigarettes, your body starts to ask for cigarettes. This therefore increases the need for cigarettes.

It has been proven that this also works for emotional substances. There is a specific substance for every emotion that is produced in your brain; for joy, for anger, for fear…and so on. So the more you satisfy your needs, the greater your needs become. This means that if you assume that satisfying your (basic) needs is essential, and you therefore optimally satisfy these needs, causing them to become increasingly greater, you will find it increasingly difficult to achieve self-development, the highest step of Maslow’s pyramid. .

Checking your needs

This shows that it is not such a strange idea to work on controlling, or even minimizing, your needs, as we see in Buddhism and monotheistic religions, for example. Fortunately, the cigarette example also works the other way, although it is easier to get an addiction than to get rid of it. Because the cells in your body already have so many receptors that are attuned to the cigarette phenomenon, it will be very difficult to stop smoking from one day to the next. It is therefore easier to gradually reduce it; As you reduce it, new cells also develop fewer receptors that are attuned to the cigarette phenomenon. This gradually reduces the need for your body to smoke cigarettes.

Delay of need gratification

With other needs it works the same as with the need for cigarettes, for example; If you learn to control your needs, you will naturally find yourself less carried away by your needs. This ultimately allows you to make more conscious choices in your life, because you are not forced to make a certain choice by a certain need. When the need you have for something is too great, it is often very difficult to postpone satisfying this need. But when you can delay the satisfaction of a need, the pleasure you get from the satisfaction is often greater than if you had satisfied the need immediately. This is the so-called law of ‘delay of gratification’. If you train yourself to do this, it will become easier to delay satisfying a need over and over again, until at a certain point the need seems to have disappeared completely.

The less pleasure, the more happiness

The less need satisfaction, the more happiness in the long term

It sounds strange; that a need for a certain thing can disappear altogether. But when it happens you will notice that it can give you a very relieved feeling. When you are stuck in a pattern of having all kinds of needs, it feels like there is a pressure on your shoulders because you feel like you have to satisfy those needs. Sometimes you even run out of time to satisfy all your needs and wish you had more ,free time., However, if you manage to minimize your needs to the minimum, you will suddenly feel like you have ‘free time’ left. This also allows you to make much more conscious choices in your life, because your needs no longer force you in a certain direction. The advantage of making conscious choices is that, for example, when you regret something, you know that you consciously made the choice to commit that particular act that you regret. This allows you to understand yourself better and learn from your mistakes. However, if you make choices based on all kinds of needs, this will be less the case.