Wright Foundation | August 6, 2019

Happiness Vs. Satisfaction: Which One Should We Seek?

How many of us would like to feel happier or wish for more happiness in our lives?

In the debate of happiness vs. satisfaction, which is more important? Is it possible to achieve happiness through satisfaction?

Maybe we think if we just had a bigger house, a new car, or a hot date, we’d feel happy. Happiness feels like something we can obtain or own.

We hear the debates on happiness vs. satisfaction, but satisfaction may seem loftier and harder to grasp. Happiness seems immediate and within our reach…but does the endless search for happiness leave us unsatisfied? Are we chasing a feeling? Are we settling for something temporary when we could actually experience more?

Happiness and satisfaction are intertwined. If you position your life trajectory toward more satisfaction, you will experience greater happiness along the way. Here’s how to steady your aim toward a life of meaning.

Why We All Long for More

When we experience a moment of happiness, we often want even more, right? Happiness feels like an itch we can’t quite scratch enough or a bucket we can never fill up.

The answer to getting more happiness is in shifting the way we look at happiness itself. Happiness is a feeling. It’s temporary. It comes and goes. While happiness is joy and pure pleasure, it’s momentary. We may experience happy and transcendent moments, but they pass. Then we shift back to our “regular” state. Some people are happier than others, and every one of us has a happiness set point.

On the other hand, satisfaction is a state of being; it’s lasting and infinite. Satisfaction comes from finding a purpose and embracing our sense of purpose in all aspects of our lives.

Satisfaction is in the here and now, whereas happiness is often something you imagine will be somewhere else.

This concept keeps people from embracing the present and living in the moment. We may miss opportunities in the present because we’re so busy trying to find something we can’t find or chasing something fleeting.

Our levels of happiness re broken down into three states:

Hedonic happiness is a quick fix. It’s a joke, a treat, or an escape. When we experience hedonic happiness, we’re getting a momentary smile. It’s fun, we feel good, then it passes, and we’re on to the next moment. Many people settle on the concept of hedonic happiness, but it never really scratches their itch for more.

The happiness of engagement is the joy of connecting with others in genuine engagement. If we think of engagement as a continuum, we move across it, having moments of disengagement, mis-engagement, superficial engagement, and deep, intimate connections moving toward the ultimate transformative engagement. The happiness of engagement exists in the deeper end of the spectrum—where we’re genuinely connecting, listening, learning, and working with another person toward something greater than ourselves.

The happiness of meaning and purpose is where satisfaction exists. This is the more profound sense of purpose we get from a life where we’re mindful, engaged, turned on, and tuned in to the world around us. While we may not always feel hedonic happiness, if we’re living a life oriented toward purpose and meaning, our satisfaction will become a greater joy and fulfillment.

Getting in the Flow

Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, recognized the concept of flow. The idea of flow is the state of satisfaction and purpose. Csikszentmihalyi tells us a person is capable of happiness or misery regardless of what’s going on around them, through their consciousness and mindset.

Many people think if they could obtain more, they would feel happy. If they had a bigger house, they would feel satisfied. If they got the corner office, an attractive partner, or a book deal, they’d feel fulfilled. The truth is, happiness isn’t a feeling we buy or get from others. It’s not about our achievements or checking a task off our to-do list. Happiness isn’t a promotion, the lottery, or even a hot date.

Satisfaction, or happiness from meaning and purpose, arrives when we’re in the state of flow.

Flow is the moment when nothing else matters over what we’re doing. It’s when we’re concentrating fully on our task, and there’s no room to worry or think about distractions. Flow is where we get lost in the moment. Time seems to fly by and simultaneously stop because we’re so engaged.

In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi points out a lot of people feel like victims at work. They have various degrees of complaints as they go through their daily activities at the office. They think about how they’ll feel happier outside of work, once they’re off for the weekend, away on vacation, or out with friends for the evening.

But when people report on the origins of their satisfaction, it’s often correlated to their job. Work gives people their sense of purpose and meaning. This sense of purpose and meaning gives them the highest level of happiness. It’s often in their work where people experience the state of flow. Flow can also come from building our relationships and connections with others. It’s when we’re really clicking, we’re deeply engaged, and we’re fully immersed in the moment.

Now, satisfaction and flow don’t come from a state of continually doing or from immersing ourselves in busywork. Satisfaction is a state of being. The most satisfied people in the world live with a sense of purpose. They’re living in the here and now, concerning themselves with the greater good and their impact on the world around them. They aren’t busy; they’re engaged.

If you think happiness will come from somewhere else, you’re missing the mark. The idea we can “find happiness” or we should continuously move from opera to opera, seeking happiness out, keeps us from embracing the satisfaction we could discover in the here and now. The opportunities are right in front of us.

Meaning comes from the inside out. We generate meaning from what we do. We find meaning and opportunities to learn in every action we take. It’s these lessons and moments of discovery that bring us insight.

If we want more meaning and satisfaction in our lives, it doesn’t come from treating ourselves or sitting around on the couch, binging on Netflix. Satisfaction comes from challenging ourselves. It’s when we’re engaged, stimulated, and discovering. It comes from tackling the next assignment in our life, and from working toward the next mountain, and then the next.

If we want true happiness, we should seek satisfaction and a state of flow.

For more on bringing greater purpose to your life, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where we’ll discuss new ways to connect and engage with others. Discover more about yourself with our courses, many we now offer online at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to ignite your world!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.