02 December 2021


When does euphoria end and happiness begin? 


Topic by James

Essay by Lawrence


We must first of all clarify how to use the term “euphoria” given that this is a term used abundantly in medical and psychological disciplines. The term is also used to describe the rush after taking some form of narcotics.


The euphoria we are interested in is the euphoria as excitement associated with “normal” activities. This does not mean that the euphoria medical scientists talk about is not valid in our context, but rather they use this term in a specific and technical meaning of the discipline in question. But the meaning of euphoria we are interested is the everyday use of the term.


The everyday use of euphoria would be the result of acting in anticipation of an event in the future. Or even having embarked on what will bring about a rush of excitement that usually wanes away with time. I would say that the idea of visiting one’s favourite pizzeria on Friday would certainly create a feeling of euphoria. Not to mention the real feeling of euphoria at the sight of and the first bite of our favourite pizza. But it would too much to say that this sense of euphoria lasts till we finish the pizza. By the time we finish the pizza it would be more appropriate to say we feel happy and certainly satisfied.


Although we cannot really say in advance how long an episode of euphoria lasts we can safely assume that it wouldn’t last too long. The rush of excitement will wear off in no time at all. This might very well be the consequence of the novelty of what we are doing wearing off. What is clear is that the experience of euphoria happens before the actual event takes place: we become euphoric before we tuck into our pizza although there might be spill over into the actual eating of the pizza.


I would argue that happiness goes beyond the end of the event. For example, we can be happy that we had a good experience travelling abroad before the pandemic put a stop to that. Ideally we can argue that happiness starts soon after our euphoria begins to wane. Maybe because we are too busy living the moment that we need to concentrate on performing the event, and thus enjoy the event, rather than linger on about the anticipation of the event.


We see this behaviour in some animals as well especially in dogs (cats have such experiences as well) who are about to be taken out for a walk or when we are preparing food for them. Once we take the dog for a walk or it finishes its food we can describe the animal as being content or happy. A question for us is why should we feel euphoric? We know that on Friday we are going for a pizza and the dog knows that in a few minutes they’ll be served their food. So why the mental rush and expense of mental energy?


And is euphoria only linked with pleasant activities? There is no reason why it shouldn’t be specific to pleasant activities but then again we know those activities will happen so why spend so much mental energy? At face value it makes no sense to assume that we can be euphoric about something that is not pleasant but what about masochism? Surely masochistic events are better subjects for psychologists than philosophers?


An even more relevant question would be whether euphoria should always cause or leads to happiness? Can we just have an episode of euphoria and that will be it. Sure, I doubt that after having a dozen pizzas over a short period of time we might not feel as euphoric as the first or second pizza (diminishing returns). We can also argue that in these repeated experiences, what becomes important for us is the consequent generic happiness. After so many visits to the pizzeria, we are left with a sense of happiness rather than the individual euphoric moments; but then again there is nothing necessary about this.


To answer my question, “why euphoria?” maybe because such an overwhelming rush of excitement guarantees that our experience to come will be well embedded in our memory: a sort of pay attention or else….. Now whether this rush is chemical, for example to create the right conditions for our sense perceptions to reach our memory, or even physiological, to make sure that the physical events are captured by our memory, is beyond our scope of philosophy. What matters is that experiences preceded by euphoria are more likely to be remembered and hence make us happier.


This leads us to another question: can we only be happy if we remember the events that make us happy? Followed by: is happiness a conscious recall of an exceptional experience?  Can we be happy if we are unconscious or have a loss of memory? Thus euphoria might act like a booster to make sure that our anticipated special experiences are well anchored in our memory.






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