Pleasure vs. gratification

Pleasure vs. Gratification – 2/04/2012

Winning bucket loads of money wont find you happiness or will it?  I’m sure we can all think of things we could do with the money that we are almost sure will make us happy.  Money can buy us pleasure derived from material goods and fantastic experience but these things tend to wear off. Pleasure obtained in this way tends to disappear faster than an ice-cube in cuba!


Professor Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania discovered that people make happier choices when they understand the difference between feelings of pleasure and a feeling of gratification. He observed this while teaching a class to undergraduates about whether happiness could be taught.

The pleasure derived from things and experiences soon evaporate because the emotional high obtained in the beginning soon dwindles to nothing because the newness goes stale and you get board. Most people get pleasure from that new car smell, well that doesn’t last long and after that its just another car!

BUT, gratification is longer lasting and leaves an emotional residue. It’s a kind of M&S emotional fuller longer meal for one!  Gratifying activities fully absorb our attention, think about when you’re doing something you love, doesn’t time fly?

According to Seligman, humans are or have become poor at distinguishing gratification from pleasure. We use the word “like” to indicate either one. For example, we say, “I like a cold beer on a hot day.” We also say, “I like volunteering at the hospital.” A cold beer is a pleasure and volunteering is gratifying, yet we talk about them the same way, as if the same type of feeling comes with both.

Many people expect pleasure out of gratifying activities and gratification from pleasure when they are two different experiences.

Gratification isn’t always immediate like pleasure, for example cleaning the house can be a bothersome chore, but having a nice tidy home is gratifying.  Drinking wine alone can be described as a pleasure however, drinking wine with a friend over gossip is gratifying!

In Seligman’s experience, gratification happens when a person exercises their strengths, virtues, and talents in an activity. He doesn’t mention passion or interest, but those qualities seem to fit as well. When our top strengths are used to serve something bigger than ourselves, we enter the realm of living a meaningful life. Research backs this up.

So the age-old question ensues, can money buy you happiness?  There is evidence showing that people who experience an increase in wealth do notice an increase in happiness if they use their additional resources to purchase “inconspicuous goods.”

Gratification may be the meat of happiness, but pleasure has to be the ever-important cherry on top!

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