Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Happy vs Satisfied

Last week, I was listening to an interview with sociology prof. Andrew Cherlin about his book, The Marriage-Go-Round. In it, he analyzes trends in marriage patterns in the United States and how they differ from the rest of the world. He writes about how Americans tend to get married more often, and more frequently, than other nationalities. He suggests that this high rate for wedding and then divorcing is, in part, due to Americans' strong belief that they deserve to be happy. If you are not happy, this beliefs goes, then that is a significant problem and it needs to be corrected no matter what the consequences to a spouse and children.

It got me to thinking about the elusive nature of happiness and that maybe there is a better way to think about one's well-being.

To me, Happiness is best symbolized by a balloon. It's a big, round, shiny, brightly-colored, inflated emotion that is fun and cheerful, but can immediately be deflated by the prick of a pin. And, no matter how tightly knotted, eventually deflates anyway into a shrivelled pile of rubber. A delight to have around, but temporary and unsustainable.

Like a balloon that needs some one to blow it up, happiness is a state of being that is often dependent on factors out of your control--having a great boss, being thin, working at a stimulating job, living with well-behaved children. If this is what could make you happy, you don't have much control over your happiness--your actions can't always improve the situation, no matter what your intention; some bosses are just jerks, kids get cranky, your pelvis bone is wide.

So I'm thinking...how about Satisfaction as the goal. To me, "satisfied" suggests being pleased with an outcome you directly affected. You control the situation, you decide when it is completed, there is closure. I've been trying this mind-set out and I find myself in a much better mood. I'll be satisfied when this kid is dried off, in pajamas and in bed. I'm satisfied that I worked up a sweat mowing the lawn and got some exercise. This chocolate pudding is pure satisfaction. It breaks the desire down into an achievable goal and then it actually happens, so you get the, uh, satisfaction of a job well done. You're dealing with specifics, instead of grand, sweeping abstractions.

All semantics and mind games, I suppose. But, like shortening your to-do list, if it works...why not?

And that, my friends, makes me happy.


Lisa said...

This is great! I am a marriage counselor and will be using (stealing!!?!) your metaphor of the balloon! Wonderful! :)

Linda-Sama said...

how 'bout just remembering one of the niyamas? Santosha = contentment.

but we live in a culture that fosters discontentment. We are bombarded by advertisements that make us feel inadequate (actually we make ourselves feel inadequate, it's not the ads) and promote a continual grasping for things outside ourselves to make us "happy." We attach to things and people to avoid being "unhappy" then suffer when those things and people don't last!

Anonymous said...

I really like this, Brenda!
I fall into the 'happy trap' all the time, but I think you are right. Satisfaction can (possibly) be guaranteed. Happiness, not so much. And who decided we should be happy all the time anyway? It's not how reality is, it's not how Life is. How bland it would be. We would soon, beacuse that's our nature, go from happy to bored...

David St. Martin said...

I like the balloon metaphor as well. I was reading about the Vanitas art genre from the 16th and 17th centuries, which focused on the vanity and worthlessness of life in grandly beautiful still-live paintings. I would love to see the balloons rendered that way..much more hopeful.

heather said...

I read this when you first posted it, and I can't tell you how many times I've come back to read it, or reminded myself of it over the last two weeks. I think I need to print it and carry it with me.