A Coaching Power Tool Created by Yong Sun Terrence Ho
(Sales, Business and Leadership Coach, MALAYSIA)
When asked, “What are the 5 most important things in life?” most people would state “Happiness” as one of them. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, happiness is defined as “a state of well-being and contentment”. To Wikipedia, happiness means “positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”.It is a subject matter that has been researched since the 1960s with a wide variety of applications from psychology to science to medicine and economics. Happiness is also the subject of intense debate when it comes to the context of mental or emotional states, usage, meaning, and culture. Whilst we can agree that happiness is important in our lives; we don’t necessarily agree on what makes each of us happy.
Pleasure on the other hand is defined as a feeling of enjoyment or satisfaction (Merriam-Webster dictionary). According to Wikipedia, pleasure is a broad class of mental states that humans experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. Similar to happiness, the meaning and experience of pleasure are subjective and different people experience different kinds and amounts of pleasure in the same given situation. Whilst pleasure motivates us to recreate pleasurable moments and situations, we do not always agree with what brings each of us pleasure.
Now we know the similarities; what are the differences i.e.: happiness vs pleasure? One key insight from the book “The Hacking of the American Mind” by Dr. Robert Lustig (2017) is that the American culture tends to confuse happiness and pleasure. During an interview with the University of California TV in 2017, he clarified 7 key differences between the two:
- Pleasure is short-lived; happiness is long-lived.
- Pleasure is visceral; happiness is ethereal.
- Pleasure is taking; happiness is giving.
- Pleasure can be achieved with substances; happiness cannot be achieved with substances.
- Pleasure is experienced alone; happiness is experienced in social groups.
- The extremes of pleasure all lead to addiction, whether they be substances or behaviors. Yet there’s no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness.
- Finally and most importantly, pleasure is tied to dopamine (the pleasure biochemical/neurotransmitter), and happiness is tied to serotonin (the happiness biochemical/neurotransmitter).
Dr. Lustig goes on to explain why understanding the difference between happiness and pleasure is so important and one key reason is that excess pleasure can result in the deterioration of happiness. This is because the more pleasure is experienced, the more dopamine is released which can lead to addiction, which reduces serotonin thereby negating both present and future happiness. Hence, the conclusion, states Dr. Lustig in the same interview, is that “the more pleasure we seek, the more unhappy we get.”
Let us examine through from the perspective of a salesperson at the workplace. John derives pleasure from achieving target-related commissions / bonuses&wining and dining with clients. He also derives happiness from career advancement and having a meaningful satisfying job. In the quest for pleasure, John may be drawn to excessive entertainment and networking with clients triggering an addictive lifestyle of overconsumption of rich foods and alcohol resulting in a deterioration of his health and overall wellbeing to the point that the more he entertains, the less he finds his job meaningful and satisfying. In the quest for pleasure, inadvertently becomes less happy.
As coaches, what are the signs we can look out for in a client which would give us an indication that they might be addicted to pleasure?
- The client is rarely / never satisfied or happy with what they have or what they have experienced or experiencing i.e.: they are always seeking the next pleasure or to recreate the pleasurable moment/feeling.
- The client thinks that the harder it is to get something or someone, the more pleasure it is going to give them, and the more depressed they are for not being able to attain it.
- The client cannot wait to have their pleasures soon enough and they are willing to perform bold acts and sometimes abandon reason and logic (e.g.: display abnormal behavior) to experience that pleasure.
- The client thinks they are seeking happiness but what they share comes across as seeking pleasure instead. E.g.: Their guiding principle in life is that happiness can be attained with as little work as possible.
- The anticipation of experiencing or getting something (i.e.: the goal) makes everything, according to the client, pale in comparison and the client makes it clear that they cannot live without attaining it. The client is then troubled by it e.g.: can’t stop thinking about it to the point of having sleepless nights.
- Nothing lives up to the expectations of the client in terms of the pleasure they would expect. Nothing seems to be able to keep the client entertained or stimulated and they feel bored, empty, numb, restless, or even tortuous because the client’s mind classifies anything that is not pleasurable as pain, suffering, intolerable and suffocating.
Whilst staying alert to the above, a key question that the coach can ask themselves is: what symptoms have I seen? Think about what actions, changes, and behaviors that you have seen in the client that has caused you to think that they might have an addiction (there may be a specific occurrence or a string of questionable behaviors). Look for the following symptoms:
- Mood changes — Is the client more agitated, irritable, or aggressive? Are they having mood swings?
- Problems at work or home — Is the client taking more frequent and longer sick days than usual? Are they missing deadlines at work? Have they suffered consequences at work e.g.: been asked to take a sabbatical due to behavioral issues?
- Different spending habits — Is the client spending more money than usual? Are they asking for money from you or others?
- Lifestyle changes — Is the client neglecting responsibilities at home? Are they no longer participating in previously enjoyed activities such as sports? Are they not showing up to appointments because they are catching up on sleep lost or tending to other personal issues related to the previous days’ addiction? Are they experiencing trouble with the law such as being arrested?
- Health problems — Is the client having new health problems? Are existing health problems becoming worse? Consider physical and psychological health when asking yourself this question.
Because coaching is not therapy, counseling, or psychology and coaching does not involve getting into the underlying source that drives negative behaviors, diagnosing addiction can be challenging. And since addiction can be a life-threatening illness; in line with the International Coaching Federation (ICF)’s Core Competency of meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards; if the coach realizes a need for the client to seek professional help e.g.: therapy; then refer them to a therapist.
Now back to the example of John. Should there be no addiction issues, John’s perspective may be that for him to achieve big commissions and bonuses (i.e.: pleasure), he needs to achieve his big target, and for him to achieve that, he needs to keep his clients happy and engaged and therefore he needs to be engaged in more entertainment and networking. Now, this is a limiting point of view that can create a ‘stuck feeling’ causing less job satisfaction (i.e.: unhappiness).
How can we as coaches help to create awareness around seeking pleasure and consider the more empowering perspective which is seeking happiness? When a client like John focuses on pleasure, what he is focused on is generally the now; the current moment; the short term. To get him to shift their focus on happiness; they must consider focusing on the future; the long term. The following questions can help make the shift:
- What does happiness mean to you? What does pleasure mean to you? How do the 2 relate to you?
- If you continue this current lifestyle, what would be the impact?
- What can you do to resolve/address this feeling of being stuck? What other ways can you keep your clients engaged and happy besides what you are doing currently?
- What if you could change your lifestyle, what would that look like?
- What is the relationship and impact between wining & dining with clients and a meaningful satisfying job?
- What is the correlation between getting commissions/bonuses and achieving career advancement?
- What if you achieved happiness at the expense of pleasure?
- What if you achieved pleasure at the expense of happiness?
- What would commissions/bonuses and wining and dining with clients give you? What would career advancement and having a meaningful satisfying job give you? What is more important to you?
Other frameworks/tools that can supplement coaching to help the client gain perspective of happiness vs pleasure:
- Wheel of Life
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
In conclusion, here are some quotes that can provide further insight into happiness vs pleasure:
- Aristotle: “Happiness is not pleasure, nor is it virtue.These virtues involve striking a balance or "mean" between an excess and a deficiency. Happiness requires intellectual contemplation, for this is the ultimate realization of our rational capacities.”
- Zig Ziglar: “Happiness is not pleasure; it is victory.”
- Leo Tolstoy: “Happiness is pleasure without remorse.”
- Eckhart Tolle: “Pleasure is always derived from something outside you, whereas joy and happiness arise from within.”
- Nisargadatta Maharaj: “True happiness cannot be found in things that change and pass away. Pleasure and pain alternate inexorably. Happiness comes from the Self and can be found in the Self only. Find your real Self and all else will come with it.”
“The Hacking of the American Mind” by Dr. Robert Lustig (2017).