The Difference Between Pleasure and Joy
Monday April 8, 2013

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“Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy arises from within.” —Eckhart Tolle

One of the most empowering realizations we can make about life is to understand that so much of what we seek to create a fulfilling life already resides within us and is within our control, rather than outside of us and beyond our control.

When I finally came to understand this life lesson, a huge sense of relief washed over me. And while it was something that I knew subconsciously as a young girl, as I became curious about the world and began exploring upon leaving my parents home, I seemed to have forgotten such a vital concept necessary for the dream I sought – fulfillment.

Take the above pic of the garden as an example as we examine where the joy and pleasure reside. The pleasure aspect resides in taking in the beauty of another’s work (this is a garden I enjoy walking past in a small Oregon coastal town whenever we visit). It’s fleeting, but it’s sincere – the pleasure that is. There is nothing wrong with such pleasure. This is why I wholeheartedly encourage savoring simple pleasures in our everyday. Our eyes feast on the gorgeous colors and appreciate the work that it must have taken to nurture such stunning, yet evanescent natural beauty. Joy, on the other hand resides in the gardener who holds themselves in the present moment as they give of their time the journey of gardening – the planning, the planting, the nurturing, and then appreciating all the work that enabled such wonderful to arise from the earth. However, it is not the end result, but a sincere interest in doing something they love, holding themselves in the moments along the way, and savoring the joy their actions bring them. Such engagement changes them for the better as they learn, they discover and yes, when all goes well, delight in the blooms. But nothing is dependent on the outside for them to experience joy. Pleasure is dependent on the outside world (seeking approval from others, refraining from being true to ourselves in order to be accepted), and what happens beyond our thoughts, actions and words; and joy is only dependent on how we hold ourselves in our daily lives – where we let our thoughts go, what actions we choose to take, and whether or not we appreciate the present moment or not.

Throughout my twenties and even late teenage years I sought far too often the acceptance of others and the consumer goods of retailers in hopes that they would lead me to the contentment I desired. Thankfully, a handful of lessons (many of them small, yet quite powerful) demonstrated that life is about going within to discover the contentment we seek rather than gobbling up more from the outside world.

The jockeying back and forth from the inner and outer worlds of ourselves is what brings me to the difference of joy and pleasure. Pleasure, while fleeting and often elusive, is sought by humans for a reason – it makes us feel euphoric, somewhat removed from the present moment. However, because it is something that we seek outside of ourselves, we don’t have complete control over it, if any at all.

Joy, on the other hand is a pursuit that requires that we dive deep within ourselves. It is something that cannot be taken away and is something that builds like interest once we become better in tune with ourselves as we learn to discover it within our thoughts, being and existence in this world.

Ultimately, while pleasure may cost money, it is rather easy to attain, and it does not add to the quality of our lives but rather adds excerpts of exclamations points along the way. Joy, on the other hand, requires of each of us more time, attention and thoughtfulness, but the rewards are enormous because of their durability and substance.

Now, I would not go as far as to say we should eliminate all pleasure from our lives. After all, a decadent meal, a beautifully tailored outfit or an intimate moment with a loved one is what adds to the richness of our lives. (Click here and here for a few more of my favorite simple pleasures.) But when we aren’t clear on the difference between joy and pleasure, we can seek one all the while thinking it’s the other.

The key to creating a fulfilling life is building your foundation on joy and adorning it occasionally with pleasure. So long as we don’t rely on pleasure to provide us with contentment, we can appreciate it for what it is – a temporary moment to appreciate fully and not become attached to.

How to Welcome More Joy into Your Life:

  1. Take time to meditate or pray, and be still.
  2. Look inward – become at peace with who you are, and celebrate your uniqueness.
  3. Allow external inspiration (art, nature, music, conversation) to stir your inner creativity, and act upon those moments of inspiration – create, dream and act according to what is provoked within you.
  4. Figure out your purpose/passion and then go pursue it
  5. Be thankful for what you already have, rather than what you lack
  6. Give when you have the resources, time and energy to do so
  7. Pursue avenues/dreams that are meaningful and align with your values
  8. Plan activities that cultivate more moments of joy – simple meals, gatherings, events that you are curious about, etc.

Knowledge is truly power. And when we understand the difference between joy and pleasure, we become less a feather in the wind being randomly blown from one pleasurable moment to the next, but rather an oak tree that may bend with the gusts, but is always rooted in what provides security and certainty.

Have a wonderful start to your week.


~Why Not . . . Get to Know Yourself? (3 part series)

~The Most Important Ingredient for a Healthy Relationship

~One Small Adjustment Away from Contentment | The Simply Luxurious Life

10 thoughts on “The Difference Between Pleasure and Joy

  1. Another wonderful post…I’ll be printing this one out too to have close at hand. I’ll keep it in my purse or tote for a week or two for quick reference 🙂
    Cathy Wong, Nova Scotia

  2. I love the list at the end of the post. I think we all can create happiness. It’s there, inside of us, just waiting to be discovered and nurtured!

  3. Shannon, what in inspiration and awesome way to start the week. I so love all of you post, what a well rounded and balanced life you live. Wish I had friends like you to hang with! (I have one but she is in Los Angels.)

  4. I have come to depend on your blog almost daily and I can say from the bottom of my heart what an inspiration ALL your posts are. I write down in my Journal the tips I like the best and refer to them throughout the week. You must collect all your posts in one book and have the same illustrator you have in your blog do the art. What a beautiful book would that be!!!

  5. After reading Mr. Tolle’s quotes, I started to realize that life only has on tense, that is NOW. There is no past, no future, because all you have and can experience with is the present moment. To find inner peace is more difficult than to find pleasure.

  6. I prefer bliss, because I’m in a great state of mind when I experience bliss, and it’s not bliss in being ignorant, rather, it’s bliss in my clothes and grooming, and that’s all I care about.

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