July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

A satisfied man drinking coffee.

Satisfaction from a pleasant cup of coffee.

In the last post I mentioned that I was going to start discussing synonyms for contentment because I think they need to be considered as a whole in order to explain fully what contentment is.

I thought I’d start with the synonym “satisfaction” because it seems to me to be one of the trickier terms. I think it’s tricky because it doesn’t appear that it’s as simple to understand in the context of contentment as it might seem.

First, of course, the word “satisfaction” can have a negative context as in the phrase “self-satisfied.” No one wants to be thought of as self-satisfied. Sometimes I think that there are other, more subtle, negative aspects of the word. For example, being satisfied because you feel full after eating what was really too much food or food that’s not good for you; being satisfied after having got the best of someone, that is, outsmarting someone. I’m sure all of you can think of contexts for the word “satisfaction” that have some small negative connotation or implication.

Satisfaction in the sense of being a part of contentment is a state or feeling of wellbeing, which contentment is, too. Usually when this feeling is part of our sense of contentment it’s because we’ve done something that needed to be done, especially when we were not particularly anxious to deal with the things that needed to be dealt with.

I might be so keen on this today because I’ve just had two days that showed me the difference between dissatisfaction and satisfaction rather vividly.

Friday I had a long list of things I needed to do, things I had been putting off for a couple of days because they weren’t particularly fun to deal with and there were other things to do that also needed to be done but which were more enjoyable. So, human that I am, I had spent those previous couple of days dealing with the things I wanted to, the things that were more enjoyable than the others.

But then came Friday, and I spent the day just . . . well, just messing around. I didn’t do any of those “un-fun” things that I needed to do. And for most of the day Friday, I was anything but content. I characterized the day to my wife as a “not very good day.” I just felt “kvetchy” all day, and I knew that my feeling of dissatisfaction was because I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do. But the strange thing about the way I felt was that I didn’t simply feel guilty, the way we often feel when we’re not doing what needs to be done. Rather I felt what I just called “kvetchy” and dissatisfied. But what I was really feeling was a general sense of unease.

And then came Saturday morning. And I was off like a shot. I just started doing things that needed to be done, and I finished them, one after another, until everything was done and it was still only early afternoon and I had the rest of the day to enjoy with my wife, which we very much did.

Later that day, just before dinner, I was doing something, I’m not quite sure what, when I began to feel a real sense of wellbeing. I imagine it was because of three things: first, I had done the things I needed to do and, second, I did several things that I wanted to do, and third, I had spent a few very enjoyable hours with my wife.

But I definitely didn’t feel self-satisfied or smug because I had done things I didn’t particularly want to do. I just felt good about everything. I was satisfied with the day and was feeling happy, contented, and very much at peace. It was a wonderful feeling. And in part, I think, that feeling was the result of my awareness. Too often we go through our days without truly being aware of what we’re doing, what’s going on around us, or how we really feel about these things. We often live lives of routine.

There’s nothing wrong with routine, in fact there’s a lot in it that is comforting and that enhances our sense of security, no small thing when looking for contentment. But at the same time, not being aware prevents us from enjoying what is good in our lives, what is good in our routines, what brings us pleasure, what brings us satisfaction, what it is that makes us feel happy; in a sense what brings us contentment.

So I would suggest that we try to the utmost of our ability not to forget to be aware of the course of our lives and to try to focus our attention on what is going on that’s good. If we do that, then a byproduct of that focus will also be an awareness of what is going on that is not good. And being aware of that, we are more able to determine what we might do to change the “not good” to the good. We’ll discuss this later on in other posts.

The point of all this is not that if you do everything you don’t want to do you’ll feel good, though I’m sure that helps. Instead, what I think happened to me was that I lived a full and rewarding day and, most important, I was very much aware of it; that is, I was very much aware that my day was enjoyable and rewarding and that brought me a great sense of satisfaction with concomitant contentment.

(P.S. My post about “getting over it” has been republished in a slightly longer form here.


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