The differences between happiness and pleasure

“In the thin light of hunted pleasure, I become afraid that I will never know my sorrow. I call on you with a cry that concentrates the heart. When will I cry out in gratitude? When will I sing to your mercy?”, writes Leonard Cohen in The Book of Mercy and makes me reflect on the quest for the holy grail of happiness in life. We human beings are seeking for experiences of pleasure and adventure in an endless pursuit to give meaning to our existence.

Being so attracted to feeling more and wanting it to last longer, forever if possible, even if pleasure and pain are interconnected and come in waves, taking us up and down in the ocean we call life. Experiences, good or bad, are like a rainbow which one is chasing and cannot ever reach it. They appear clearly in their beauty and perfection but have no true reality, we cannot hold on to them no matter how much we exhaust ourselves in the effort.

Everything that appears, vanishes and arises again, endlessly and without beginning, and nothing but the quest for happiness prevents us from seeing it. As soon as we let go of the hold, space is here, open, welcoming and comfortable. Just like in this beautiful story from Zen:

“Once upon a time there was a young man named Kai who lived in a small village the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan. Kai was a restless soul, always seeking more from life that what his small village could offer him. He was constantly searching for the next adventure or challenge. Never content with where he was. On day Kai heard of a great Zen master who lived atop a nearby mountain. He decided that he would seek out the master, hoping that the wise old man could help him find purpose and meaning in his life. After a long and arduous journey, Kai finally reached the mountain top and found the Zen master’s humble abode. The old man welcomed Kai with a warm smile and invited him to sit and talk. Kai poured his heart to the Zen master, telling him of his restlessness and his constant search of something more. The master listened patiently, then handed Kai a cup of tea. Drink this tea, said the master. It is the finest in all of Japan. Kai sipped the tea and was surprised to find that it tasted no different than any other cup of tea he had ever had in his life. He told the master this but the master simply smiled. You see, said the master. The tea is not what is important. It is the act of drinking it. The act of being present in the moment and appreciating what is right in front of you. Kai realised then in that moment, that he had been so focused on the next adventure, the next challenge that he had missed the beauty of the present moment. He thanked the Zen master and promised to live in the present and appreciate the small things in life. As he descended the mountain, Kai felt lighter and more content than he had in years. He realised that the true happiness came not from seeking more, but from appreciating what was already there.”

Happiness is here, nearby, so let us simply enjoy it! There is nothing to do, there is nothing to desire, it all comes by itself.