The Garrulous Jay – Happiness Versus Pleasure

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Last weekend I attended a talk by the self-styled “number one hypnotherapist in the world”, Paul McKenna. To be honest I wasn’t particularly impressed, but the distinction he drew between happiness and pleasure resonated with me…

To summarise pleasure is derived from experiences or activities: you decide to do something and the outcome leaves you with a positive feeling.

By contrast happiness is a state of mind developed over an extended period of time. It might therefore be seen as the net long-term feeling you have from the aggregation of all the experiences and activities in which you engage, both positive and negative, as you go about your daily life.

Pleasures are therefore by definition ‘all good’, or largely so. Happiness, however, is more of a balance or reckoning over time between different experiences and the way they leave you feeling.

One can draw upon many examples to illustrate this. One might be horse-racing. Setting aside the relative costs for a moment, pleasure might be gained from backing a rank outsider that comes in for you in a big race. But owning a racehorse over many years and following its development and success might bring happiness.

Importantly, as individuals we have the ability to exercise choice in both what we do and how we lead our lives, so this is very much down to us.

I think the happiness versus pleasure distinction has important lessons for people making decisions about managing and growing their personal wealth.

Managing one’s own portfolio of individual investments can bring great pleasure: backing a stock before everyone else and watching it double. These are the investments you tend to hear about from friends down the pub. But the chances of doing this consistently, as with betting on the nags, are quite low.

By contrast, happiness is far more likely to come from investing over the long-term in a diversified portfolio of investments or funds that grow steadily, ultimately providing you with the capital to deploy to meet your savings goals.

Furthermore, I think a parallel can be drawn between pleasure and happiness, and amateur and professional activities. The average punter well may do his research, studying form guides, looking at the going at the course and the weather, and noting which jockey is riding which horse. He may even take ‘advice’ from fellow racegoers, but it will be a largely DIY or amateur activity.

The racehorse owner will, by comparison, employ a coterie of professionals to assist him or her:  key among them being the trainer, for example. This is very much a professional business where the input of experts is key.

The same is true, in my opinion, when it comes to investing. Punting on the stockmarket as an individual can be great fun…sometimes, but when it comes building wealth for the long-term I think it probably pays to seek professional advice to increase your chances of happiness.