There appears to be a general cultural confusion of emotional-state identity between “happiness” and “pleasure”. This confusion can not plausibly be attributed solely to the cleverly manufactured fantasies of so many advertising firms and other entrepeneurially opportunistic salespeople. The pop-cultural psychological marketing ploys, mind-games and brute-force repetition of commercial messages concerning packaged experiences and the acquisition of possessions as equivocating happiness is endemic to a world whose semiotic circumference is transcribed by the images and messages of commercial mass media. In all the noise and bluster, and at some indistinct point on this collective journey, the pleasure of normative and socially-mediated experience has become mistaken for the somewhat aloof and semi-detached ambient experience and activity we may know as actually “being happy”.
“Emotional branding is a term used within marketing communication that refers to the practice of building brands that appeal directly to a consumer’s emotional state, needs and aspirations. Emotional branding is successful when it triggers an emotional response in the consumer, that is, a desire for the advertised brand (or product) that cannot fully be rationalised.”
“Happiness” as a neurophysiological fact may be no less a result of chemically fortuitous conjunction than is the pleasure derived from sex, drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), emotional stimulation, gambling, dependence-forming habits of all flavours, etc. The manufacture of the experiences and material artefacts associated with states of pleasure is a powerful economic and cultural energy which perhaps mirrors, or at least indicates, a general psychological impulse towards pleasure in place of pain. The evolutionary purpose of memory must at least to some extent be derivative of a requirement to avoid pain and fear, to privilege behaviours (and now – thoughts) which reinforce survival potential and which over many hundreds of millions of years have developed to enable continuity of the individual organism, it’s progeny and in some animals – the group.
As culture and technology advance, the onward march of civilisation finds itself in circumstances in which the availability and opportunity for pleasures and pleasing experiences proliferates. It is perhaps to salve the combined tedium and unremitting entropy of everyday life and the awareness of the unremitting disaster and tragedy that exists in this world that we have unwittingly created this vast industry of joy but these brief flights on the wings of endorphins and dopamine can just as easily prime us for unhappiness and pain. Escape from unhappiness and aspiration to catharsis is not a bad thing but it can become a bad thing when the manufactured, socially normative pleasures on the menu themselves become mistaken for, and surrogate of, happiness itself.
Happiness has a more holistic, gestalt quality than does pleasure – the source of much (at least the early-stages of) addiction probably lies somewhere in the misattribution of emotional-state identities between the episodic experiences of pleasure and the more nebulous, ambient states of happiness. Beyond the innate functioning of brain chemistry in regards to reward/pleasure and the potential for individual predisposition to addictive behaviours or personality types, the constant bombardment of messages equating pleasure with happiness inevitably clouds clear thinking and leads to much confusion and eventual desperation or depression.
Pleasure is even more transient than happiness. Dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin rush is one thing but I am personally interested in the other and far more deeply compelling state which happiness and the catharsis of Enlightenment in Buddhism represents, even through a filter of secular and materialist psychological interpretation. I would gladly substitute the low-level ambient joy of spiritual or meditative bliss over the discontinuous, episodic pleasure-rush of a normative, socialised pleasure. While pleasure may predominantly be all about the possessions, people and experiences we collect and consume, happiness is probably much more about knowing when to let all of this go, of being unattached to things. Pleasure and happiness are not mutually exclusive but there exists a significant difference between them which goes largely unacknowledged in popular culture and communications.