an excerpt from Get More Power from your Brain
Pleasure means enjoying something that comes from outside of ourselves, like taking pleasure in eating, having a massage, or smelling a rose. It is temporary and intermittent. If we continued the outside stimulation that evokes pleasure for an extended period of time, we would eventually find the stimulus uncomfortable or even painful. While eating one piece of chocolate cake might give us pleasure, a second piece will probably give us less pleasure, and a third piece will diminish our pleasure to the point of discomfort and regret.
Happiness is something we create within ourselves, and we control how happy or unhappy we are. Different people describe their happiness differently. For some, it’s a sense of peace, joy, contentment, and satisfaction. For others, it might be a sense of being energized, connected with the world, exhilarated, passionate, and purposeful.
We feel good emotionally when we are happy. It is our natural state. It makes sense that we would get the most power from our brain when we are happy.
Another way to understand happiness is to recognize that it’s the opposite of being unhappy, however we might describe that. We’re unhappy when we’re annoyed, anxious, bored, depressed, envious, fearful, frustrated, grieving, guilty, irritated, worried, or any other unpleasant emotion. Those emotions usually cause us stress. Chronic stress continually releases cortisol, a stress hormone, into our brain. Excess cortisol kills cells in our hippocampus, an important structure in the brain for memory and learning.
Many of us don’t recognize that we’re in control of our level of unhappiness. It’s easy to think that other people or situations make you unhappy, but in fact it’s your response, your thinking about the person or the situation, that makes you upset.
You can practice thinking about your thinking. This is particularly useful when you find yourself getting upset. Sometimes getting upset about something is useful, as the emotion gives us the energy to implement a change, but we need to distinguish what we can influence, what we can control, and what we have absolutely no control over.