By: Mike Riley

Have you ever finished a good book wishing there was more to the story? Have you ever watched a movie leaving the theater unsatisfied? Perhaps after a good meal you’ve wished there were more to come. Such things provide us with momentary pleasure, but our desire for more belies our unhappiness. Why are we so unhappy in our society today? We are the most prosperous nation on the earth yet one out of every four individuals in our nation is depressed in some way. What are we doing wrong? Are we confusing pleasure with happiness? Many feel that their happiness rests upon having one pleasurable moment after another. They reason that they simply aren’t happy unless each moment is filled with pleasure. We need to stop thinking this way and look at happiness differently. Happiness does not depend merely on having pleasurable moments, but rather, on whether we are content or satisfied with the moments that come our way. In other words, I don’t have to feel pleasure from something in order to be happy. Is this a strange concept to you?

The word “pleasure” connotes the idea of enjoyment due to momentary gratification. The word “happiness,” however, contains the idea of a prolonged state of satisfaction and contentment associated with one’s overall circumstances. We ask, “Are you happy?” and we mean by that question to know about one’s general conditions in life. We ask, “Are you pleased?” and mean whether one is satisfied with a particular item.

Happiness is a state of mind. We can be happy regardless of the situation we are in.

Paul said in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice.” We can control our state of mind by focusing on happy things. Pleasure, however, is a feeling experienced in the body. The Proverbs writer said, “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich” (Proverbs 21:17). The Hebrew parallel here indicates that loving pleasure is the same as loving “wine and oil,” things associated with bodily pleasure.

As Christians we are to focus on the spiritual, not the physical (Colossians 3:2). Happiness rests upon contentment. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” One blessing that comes from contentment is an indescribable happiness that cannot be easily subverted. On the other hand, pleasure is often driven by boredom or being malcontent. When we are malcontent, we seek something to stimulate our senses to create bodily pleasure. We simply end up unsatisfied after the experience has ended or craving more in an addictive-like behavior. Solomon experienced this as recorded in Ecclesiastes 2:1 “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.” Proverbs 14:13 states, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.” Let us learn contentment if we desire to be happy.

Happiness is satisfied with “clean fun.” It is interesting that the word “fun” is not in the Bible. We do find, however, that God “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). In that regard, God’s gifts are pure and unadulterated. James 1:17 states, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” On the other hand, pleasure often delves into sinfulness. Paul spoke to Timothy of a time when men would be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4) and the Hebrew writer spoke of Moses who chose not to “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). Sinful activities may produce pleasure but ultimately provide no lasting happiness. Let’s resolve to seek happiness regardless of our circumstances, to base our happiness upon contentment, and to enjoy the good things God has given while shunning sin in our lives. By so doing, we can avoid confusing pleasure with happiness.