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Are You Low on Pleasure or Purpose? Finding Your Happiness Formula

Photo by Gabriel Silvério on Unsplash

In his book, “Happiness by Design”, Paul Dolan PhD, defines happiness as experiences of pleasure and purpose over time. Examples of pleasurable experiences might be having a drink with your spouse over dinner or watching a comedy on TV. Examples of a purposeful experiences are exercising or helping a friend move.

Pleasure and purpose percentages different for everyone

Different percentages of pleasure and purpose make up our happiness quotient. Overall, some of us put more energy into pleasurable experiences. Others emphasize purposeful experiences. There is no correct combination. We are each unique.

One way to tell if you lean toward pleasure or purpose

If you are curious about whether you are primarily a pleasure seeker or a purpose seeker, Dr. Dolan suggests considering what kind of television shows you watch or what kind of books you read. Are they purely pleasure based or does their viewing/reading serve a purpose?

I thought this was a nice way to look at our decisions during free time. If we are reading or watching purposeful content during free time, we may have a higher percentage of purpose in our overall happiness formula.

I watch mostly pleasure heavy TV shows (The Bachelor, Glow, football games, etc.) with a few documentaries thrown in. My reading is fairly balanced between fiction (pleasure) and non-fiction (purposeful). How do your television and reading habits shake out?

Happiness measured over time

Which brings us to the over time part of Dolan’s happiness definition. Many of us have been sold the idea that we should feel happy most of the time. We believe that happiness is mostly derived from pleasurable experiences. We see mostly smiles and good times on social media.

Happiness requires pleasure and purpose. If we only seek pleasure, after a while pointlessness would creep in. We would miss out on the satisfaction of accomplishing. We need the warm feeling of meaning and purpose to get things done. We need purpose to keep us hanging in there as we work on long-term projects.

Consider the anxiety and unhappiness that many of us feel today. Could it be that the quickness of technology and its instant payoffs of “likes” and google answers, do not support the purpose part of happiness’ definition?

Pleasure is instant

Purpose tends to involve delayed gratification. The discomfort of dedicated studying for years or talking on the phone even, could put the brakes on meaningful goals like obtaining a degree or forming long-term relationships.

We think things like new clothes and popularity bring us happiness, but they don’t. They provide short-term gratification, more pleasure than purpose. Mastering a skill or working at a job that helps others give us the purpose piece that makes happiness more satisfying.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Coming back to our parenting example. We might have an extremely difficult day of whining and crying with our three-year old daughter (not pleasurable) but when she turns eighteen and we look back over the years of raising her, we know raising her gave our lives meaning and we are content. We have to look at our feelings and experiences over time to determine our true level of joy.

Are you low on pleasure or purpose?

Dr. Dolan suggests boosting the amount of purpose in our lives if we are heavy on pleasure-only experiences. He also recommends boosting our pleasure if we have devoted our lives to mainly purpose. We are happiest when we have a balance between pleasure and purpose that suits us. It will be different from others’ combinations and it will be different day-to-day, for each of us.

Are you heavy on purpose? Pleasure? Where can you add more of pleasure or purpose? What’s one step you can take today to increase your happiness? 

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16 Comments

  1. Kat September 17, 2018 at 12:02 am - Reply

    I think, our North American culture, does not help us at all, when it comes to defining or finding that healthy balance between pleasure and purpose.
    We are left to figure it out on our own! While we are being continuously exposed to contradictory messages! ‘Buy this, purchase that’, with all the promises of a happier version of ourselves if we buy this and purchase that (promised pleasure)! Followed by ‘How dare you be buying this and purchasing that!!! You are giving in to consumerism! You are shallow, impulsive in your purchasing habits… AND you are causing our planet’s destruction, its animals to become extinct and the awful allergies and rashes our next door neighbour Rachel is suffering with! As well as aunt Mode’s awful sudden mood swings! Quit already!’.

    No wonder, it is incredibly difficult to find a clear path when it comes to the issue of pleasure or/and purpose! It’s also incredibly sad, when lots of us, find settling for destructive forms of pleasure (drugs, alcohol etc), to be the only alternative for not finding that life purpose or life goal!

    For me personally, I find, I have spent enough time not being able to sketch or paint for example (something I take a great pleasure in), due to the fact I didn’t believe in its ‘practical’ purpose at improving my life. I spent a long time unable to pick up my pencils and brushes laying in-front of me! Why? Because I felt I needed to work and work and work! Even when I wasn’t actually…working sometimes!
    I’d have a couple hours of free time, I’d look at my art tools, but wouldn’t dare touching them!
    I was obsessed with ‘purpose’!

    I’m glad to say, I have finally managed to notice, what I was doing was completely wrong! That’s when I started painting and sketching again! But I won’t deny: sometimes, my art (pleasure) did take over to a point of neglecting some of my work (purpose)! The pleasure was so intense, so captivating…I had missed it for so long and was thrilled to lose myself to it and find it again! That’s a danger zone. The key is, to be aware, to pay attention and to not ignore the voice of reason when pleasure wants to take away from purpose, and vice-versa. It’s hard, but doable.
    In the end, I think generally I’m doing pretty good in that regard! Do I have days where I feel like a complete failure at it? Sure I do! But I realize ‘that balance’ is one of the important purposes to pursue in this journey called life! No one will teach us how! No one will open up a map, point a finger and blurt ‘see?! This is how! Just follow this and you’re good to go!’
    ‘We’ have to draw our own map.

    • Michael Buley September 17, 2018 at 12:34 am - Reply

      Kat, as always, it’s very interesting to read what you write.

      I think that, perhaps for awhile or a long time, we ‘look without’ for advice and guidance and direction. I did. For many years, I read books and books and books on success, psychology, marketing, more self help books than most people would know existed. Books on thought, philosophy, ‘new age’ stuff written 100 years ago (which is when the best stuff was written; it’s just re-hashed today by authors making money on speaking tours and so on). I read hundreds of books on advertising because I wanted to learn the field.

      Eventually there came a point where I realized that further ‘answers’ — who was I? what is this life about? who am I REALLY? what do I really want? what is my true nature’ — those things would only come from a lot of introspection. I am a pretty intense introvert, and I have thought about a lot of things for a long, long time, and still do.

      We do have an inner voice. Our spirit, I believe. We have to love it, tend to it, want to hear it. Let it speak to us. Let it come to us in whatever ways it does. Sometimes it speaks through a ‘coincidence.’ Sometimes through illness. Infinite ways. And one day, we might see that the universe is very, very playful — it’s essence is playful and creative. It gives us what we want. It gives us the images and visions we hold foremost in our minds — be it poverty, health, sickness, joy. Whatever! It gives it to us! Gladly! Because that’s what the universe does! lol …

      An old book by Ernest Holmes is ‘Creative Mind and Success.’ This was all of about 80 pages. He said early on a sentence I have always remembered: ‘Forget all else, and think about what you want.’ Therein, I realize then (and I continue to think about it) is the key. The hard part is … both: forgetting all else, AND thinking about what we want. Simple. Doable. And it’s how the universe seems to work. The thing is .. what DO we want? What do WE want? Not family. Not friends. Not society / world / culture, etc. What do WE want? And the world makes it very hard for us to hear what WE want. But our inner voice is there. Always.

      I’m 63, Kat. I continue to think about it all — all of it. Ever more. The key, it seems, is simplicity. And simplicity is a discipline, an art. It takes years to get there, if we ever do.

      And it’s a hell of a ride.

      I love the energy you write with, Kat, the earnestness, the openness, the excitement! The passion in your writing — in you — is palpable. THAT is what most people lose. And when we lose passion, our lives begin to ebb away. Passion, fire, these are the sources of life, real life. Keep writing — please! Keep sharing where you are, who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve learned and continue to learn. It is wonderful to read from the mind and soul of someone so passionate — stay that way! And keep doing your art!!! lol …

      Reminds me of a quote attributed to Rumi that I have hanging on a wall: “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” May we be so lucky to be on fire, and be with those who do, indeed, fan our flames — and we fan theirs!

      • Kat September 18, 2018 at 2:41 pm - Reply

        Thank you Michael for your kind words! I promise to continue writing 🙂

      • Kat September 19, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

        This is for you Michael. I wrote it this am in my little blog, before starting work! And thought of you:

        ‘Lighthouse’. It’s a song by ‘Patric Watson’.

        What about this specific song? Well…this song always manages to awaken deep feelings buried within! Every single time I listen to it..I never know what feelings are going to surface!

        Sometimes, it’s missing loved ones I haven’t seen for a while…I picture them listening to it too…The song brings back their facial features to mind! Their smile, their quiet ‘huggy’ gaze. The eyes, are half open, and are smiling…I loved to /and still do/ call them my favourite ‘smiling eyes’! They tell you a lot without any words actually spoken! They tell you this ‘You are wonderful! BUT..look at my friend leaning her head on mine! Isn’t she the most wonderful being you’ve ever seen/met?! I’m so lucky!’. Those favourite eyes of mine aren’t loud! Rather they’re very quiet! They make ‘you’ feel quiet inside too…They share the space with the most generous smile! My eyes keep bouncing back and forth between that gaze and that smile! The smile isn’t loud either! Generous, but not loud! It’s also quiet in the most wonderful way imagined!

        That generous quiet smile, those quiet ‘huggy’ eyes are my ‘lighthouse’! My son.

        • Michael Buley September 19, 2018 at 8:59 pm - Reply

          Kat, you mentioned your blog. Do you have a blog that I can follow?

          Once in awhile, I come across writing — someone writing words — and I see more than the words. Well, I almost always see more than the words someone writes. I see the person who writes the words, sometimes I think more clearly than the person sees himself or herself.

          And once in awhile, I read words that, for lack of a better phrase, stop me. Yours do that. A way of writing that is — well, ‘pure’ seems to be the word for it. Your words are alive and skipping lightly, seeing, touching, delighting, laughing, embracing what you see.

          I can think of only two other times when I’ve been struck in that way.

          Writing reveals the writer. Sometimes someone sees the writer who writes the words. For some reason, I seem to be able to do that. Sometimes I see someone who is unusually beautiful. Please don’t mind that I say that that is who I see in your words … and here in public, of all things … lol …. (it’s Brenda’s fault!) …

          I have a poster on the wall, words that I try to live by: “If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it.” Too often, we don’t. All the while, it’s quite astounding how a few words, said instead of not, can change things. Sometimes far more than we realize.

          The song is beautiful, too. Thank you sharing that, and what you wrote.

          • Kat September 21, 2018 at 11:38 pm

            Michael,
            First, sorry for the late reply! Been an interesting but a bit crazy couple of days with work! I am finally getting a breather!

            Second, thank you so much for your interest in reading more of my ‘muses’ :))… At the same time, I feel I need to learn more about the etiquettes of actually ‘leaving behind a link to my own blog’ while visiting a wonderful ‘space’ such as Brenda’s :)! Forgive me if I’m being a stickler in this matter! I just appreciate this wonderful opportunity Brebda has created, for sensitive people who can gather and learn from each other, as well as from her; all while feeling safe and supported by her and the group! I know you share that deep appreciation with me too :).

            I will tell you this, my writing, is just like my art, a window to breath, and lately has become a very necessary tool to survive the scratches from life’s sharp nails at times! Also, to continue the journey feeling emotionally healthier and stronger. I know, and trust, I am not alone at feeling this way about writing in general! I know you share that too, and so does Brenda and the wonderful souls who visit this place here :)…

            Thank you for reading my muse the other day. Thank you for complimenting me on it. Your words mean a lot! They gave me a great encouragement to continue :). Much appreciated!

            Kat

          • Kat September 29, 2018 at 10:10 am

            Anoliville Tale

            ‘For Michael’

            11:39 AM
            Spouse and I arrived at our FL villa. We were tired and jet-lagged.

            We open the door to get in, set down our luggage and IMMEDIATELY notice this little baby Anoli jumps inside too with us! He’s now ahead of us by the front door, clutching his tiny Anoli suitcase initialed “A” _very impressive_ and screaming ‘VACAY TIME YO’. Hmmm now what?! Spouse ‘as it usually goes in any situation that involves harmless, defensless at best, completely terrified of humans, little tiny creatures’, jumps, leaps and screams..and now!? He’s in the kitchen way far from the imminent danger! Leaving me behind a km away! ‘WHAT WAS THAT?!!!’ He screamed! He’s 6’6.

            I’m used to this by now of course! So I patiently coax little A back outside, all while he’s insisting and protesting ‘but I’m harmless!!! Look at me for Goodness’ Sakes!!! C’MON!!!! At least let me see what’s inside for once!!! I’m really tired of peeking through the screen! Can I can I can I??pleasaaase!’. His frontal little Anoli claws conjoining together and begging!
            Me: ‘sorry little one! Can’t! Hubster is terrified of you and finds you a bit intimidating! Please don’t take it personal’!

            Lil A jumps in definace! Gaaa I’m really tired but I’m also really loving watching him up close and personal inside my house, where he looks soooo cute! I seriously wished I could keep’m, show him around, have a French pressed coffee together by the pool, watching him stretch his tiny little legs, Chat it up about the latest in Anoli-Ville! Nope! None of that was going to happen! Alas…I had to basically attempt to scare the little guy off with all what was left of my human strength!

            I waved my hands, he jumped inside the coat closet by the door! Spouse yelling again: ‘make yourself look bigger and shoo him out’! I contemplated responding ‘yah..he’s not a bear! Won’t work now anyway, he’s already on his way to the bedroom! Go snuggle’ but I didn’t think he’ll find it funny! So I upped up my game to say adios to little A, picked him up by his little tail and gently placed him outside the door!

            Bye little A! I’m sure I’ll see you around xo.

    • Brenda Knowles September 18, 2018 at 7:51 pm - Reply

      You make a good point Kat. Our culture does not help us much when it comes to keeping our pleasures and purposes in line. It plays the devil and the angel. It tempts us with all kinds of pleasure rich distractions and scolds us for straying from our Puritan/Protestant work ethic and moral code.
      I’m glad you give yourself permission to make your art. The world needs you to do that too. 🙂 Having that pleasure gives you the energy to get through the stuff that is not so pleasurable. That’s how I feel about time to read or watch a favorite TV show. They allow me to rest a bit.
      Take care dear Kat. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  2. Louise September 15, 2018 at 2:47 am - Reply

    So true! Even as I was reading your article I thought, “I must buy Paul Dolan’s book, it’ll be useful for work too…”! It’s always about purpose for me, I constantly feel guilty if I’m not doing something that has a purpose – to the extent that I feel that I don’t have the right to exist if I’m not being productive. It’s making for quite an unhappy life.
    My so-called hobbies (swimming, cycling, triathlon, art) are never a source of pleasure in themselves anymore, and I’ve actually come to dread them now. Can’t switch off and relax, even though I tell others to find time to do things purely for pleasure. Would love to read simply for enjoyment, not for purpose and ‘usefulness’ only (I mean, reading for pleasure and enjoyment actually IS useful, isn’t it? I can argue against myself for ages…).
    I think it stems from growing up in an environment where you were seen only as worthy of existing if you were doing something purposeful and ‘of use’: to be seen as relaxing (reading fiction, for example) was deemed to be lazy and worthless. A toxic environment indeed.
    Thank you for writing about this subject, it’s really made me think and consider my priorities and where I may be going a little askew in life. Love your writing anyway, but this has really tickled my brain cells!

    • Brenda Knowles September 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

      Your comment Louise made me realize how heavy I delve into the purpose side too. I’ve allowed myself more pleasure in the last two years (fiancé makes me feel safe to do so). I still get guilt pangs if I don’t feel productive. My ex-husband and even my kids foster(ed) that guilt.
      I hope you listen to yourself and start seeking out pleasure and frivolousness. It’s OK. I give you permission, encourage you even. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I truly understand where you are coming from.

    • Kat September 18, 2018 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      Lois,
      I also know exactly what you’ve described!

      Even visiting this wonderful place, to be among people that are safe, kind and understanding can be hard! To give the self permission to just relax and ‘write’ words that speak to the soul, our soul…others’ souls, can be frightening…At least to me! Why’s that?!

      I think it’s due to ‘the list’ following me wherever I go! I go to my roasting lab (I roast coffee for a living for years now after quitting a sparklier career in corporate design), the list follows me there…I could hear its footsteps rushing behind me! I try not to look behind me..I comeback to my house, it’s waiting for me there… tapping its fingers impatiently on the edge of the chair! …’How did it get there before me??? Oh wait! This is my ‘other’ list’s cousin! They have very similar hard features. That pointy nose, those tightly closed lips and those judging eyes and oh that narrowing gaze!’ The gaze that says ‘You’ must do this, must attend to that, must choose time wisely today or things won’t get done! Work, emails, chores, working out, taking the dog for a run, oh and also…_ long skinny finger pointing upwards then doing a quick circle in the air_ there’s lots of dust on that high shelf’! Then even when I try responding: yes yes I know! Who notices that shelf anyway?!! The list jumps in ‘well I see it! So it needs done! You’re behind’ _ its eyes now rolling_

      The perfectionist personality that wants ‘everything’ done and done properly!
      The guilt from so many things that ‘shouldn’t’ cause guilt! My rational mind knows better!! My logic detects a flaw in my sense of guilt! But nonetheless, relaxing and enjoying a leisurely activity feels hard to attain!

      • Kat September 18, 2018 at 3:10 pm - Reply

        ‘Louise’. I’m sorry. My friend is ‘Lois’ and as much as I’d love to blame misspelling your name on the list, I can’t! It was me. Sorry again.

  3. Michael September 14, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Probably no surprise, I’m heavy on purpose. I do need more pleasure in my life, I know that. I never read fiction. I don’t watch TV. I do have a few movies I’ve bought, all having a kind of cool story or message or beauty to them, or are just awesome movies: The Straight Story … Still Mine … A River Runs Through It … The Sting. Clean, simple, beautifully acted.

    I need more pleasure! lol … and I’m going to find it, Brenda!

    How can you watch the Bachelor?? omg … though they are masterful as drawing you in and keeping you there. Those folks who create those shows are quite brilliant. I can’t stand the show. But the producers are brilliant.

    • Brenda Knowles September 15, 2018 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      My two sons give me so much crap about watching The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I love it because it deals with relationships and relationships are my favorite puzzle. Plus I don’t have to think much while watching, just pure junk food for the brain.
      Get out there and experience pleasure Michael! I’ve had more of it in the last couple of years. I can be such a purpose seeker. I still feel horribly guilty if I’ve had too much pleasure. I have to earn my keep with purposeful actions, you know.;)

      • Michael September 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm - Reply

        lol … I give anybody who watches the Bachelor crap! still … when I have tuned into it here and there (yes, I have once or twice during a season) it’s compelling. Like I said, these folks know how to get people to tune in and stayed tuned in.

        I’m glad you ARE doing more pleasure stuff, Brenda! Good for you! Whatever it is, just do it! The hell with the naysayers and people who give you crap for doing something fun for YOU!

        The compulsion in me to always be ‘doing something’ — and something productive — is pretty intense. There’s always so much to do, etc. Learn, create, clean, organize, read — I do not sit around and relax much. Not that I don’t waste time — commenting on articles, etc. I don’t know if it’s a waste, but I could be more productive. I do enjoy — like writing on yours, Brenda — writing! Writing is probably the most fun thing I do, which might sound dumb. But it’s just a thing that I almost have to do. It’s fun, it’s incessant, it even feels like I can justify doing it!

        • Brenda Knowles September 18, 2018 at 6:49 pm - Reply

          Writing is awesome because for me it feels both pleasurable and purposeful. I think reading non-fiction is the same. They both help keep me balanced. I’m glad you find writing on here pleasurable Michael. It is meaningful (purposeful) and pleasurable to the rest of us reading your words.:)

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