5 Ingredients for a Life of Satisfaction

Happiness. We all want it, need it, crave it and maybe even see it as our life’s quest.

But what if the pursuit of happiness was a flawed concept? What if instead we aimed for the more reasonable, more attainable pursuit of satisfaction?

How dull I hear you mumble! And you may be right. Satisfaction just doesn’t have the same ‘bells and whistles’ about it that happiness does (although Mick Jagger made the idea of ‘satisfaction’ sound pretty cool).

So let’s imagine then that we buckled up and pursued satisfaction with gusto and verve, instead of the sparkling happiness. What would we need to do or be to help us attain satisfaction in our lives and be happy with that.  

Over the ages, many a great philosopher has pondered over this; what makes a ‘good’ life, starting with Plato in the 4th Century BC.

In fact it’s only been in more recent times, since the Romantic period of the 18th Century, that visions of a greater happiness in life should seem to be one’s life goal.

In his book ‘The Good Life’ Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay expresses concern that western society has this unreasonable belief that “happiness is our birth right… and perfection is a possibility.” Is he on to something?

Likewise the very stoic ancient Roman philosopher Seneca argued that “we will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful”. Maybe aiming too high is setting ourselves up for failure?

Human Flourishing

A satisfactory place to start is with the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle and his term ‘Eudaimonia’.

This wonderful Greek term is commonly mistranslated as ‘happiness’, when in fact it more accurately means human flourishing. He labelled ‘Eudaimonia’ as the goal of human thought and action.

His brand of human flourishing involved “living in accordance with reason, fulfilling one’s sense of purpose, doing one’s civic duty, living virtuously, being fully engaged with the world and in particular, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship” (Mackay, p.54)

While there is a lot there, thoughout the ages many great thinkers have offered up a range of ingredients for what possibly makes for a ‘good’, satisfying, flourishing life.

Here their reoccurring themes provide us with 5 ingredients for a life of satisfaction.

  1. Relationships

They help shape who we are, bring us comfort and companionship and ultimately a reason for existing. According to contemporary philosopher A.C Graying, fostering good relationships through kindness and consideration, are central to what constitutes the meaning of our life.

Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus too tells us that simple pleasures such as those of conversations with friends, along with freedom and thought, are key to a ‘pleasant’ life.

“Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.” Epicurus

2. Thought and Reason

The ability to not only think, but more importantly to reason is a virtue most of us are still grappling with. Emotions trump rationality far more often than not (yep my hand is up).

But as Allain de Botton tells us, if we get a wrangle hold of those emotions, using practical intelligence and experience, we become empowered creatures. Now that’s satisfying on two fronts.

3. Moral virtue

To have a satisfying life we need to know we can and do ‘good’ or right things. But we’re not perfect all the time.

Here again the Greeks give us comfort. They saw moral failings simply as ‘bad shots’. The solution to missing the target is simply to try again and do better next time.

Hugh Mackay also offers some direction in our search for a morally ‘good life’ by suggesting we should try to relinquish our many notions of ‘I’ and instead think of ‘we’. A life devoted to others for the common good, leads to satisfaction over and above personal gains.

4. Mindset

It goes without saying that our mood or mindset can have immense sway over our attitude and behaviour, the way we see our experiences and those around us. So happiness or a personally satisfying life needs an enduring mood or mindset and a capacity for self-government (Grayling, p.281).

Nietzsche the German philosopher also tells us that the secret of a fulfilled life is to‘ live dangerously’. Maybe we could take that to mean more than the literal and to think courageously and believe in ourselves as well.

5. Action (in training)

The original cynic Antisthenes believed that through rigorous training, happiness could be achieved. Hugh Mackay too seems to subscribe to this view when he suggests what leads to the deepest sense of satisfaction is self-respect, based on self-control and self-discipline (p.26).

Viktor Frankl famously wrote in his seminal work, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’  “It is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

Ultimately it is our choices and actions on a day-to-day scale that define how meaningful our life might be. Give life a ‘good’ go, learn from the ‘bad shots’ and a satisfying life could well just be the more worthwhile quest.

Good Time To Stop

In an age of busyness and hyper-control, it’s bizarre to think that it takes an extreme weather event to stop us in our tracks.

While Cyclone Debbie tragically brought its fair share of destruction to our fellow North Queenslanders, it inadvertently brought a bit of goodwill last week to the rest of the state.

In closing down schools, workplaces and in some cases cutting off electricity, it forced many of us to stop and lay low at home.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that with three little boys at home, this could’ve gone terribly bad. But on the whole, it didn’t.

Yes there were episodes of boredom, moments of madness and cabin fever hits us hard in the second hour, but these were duly noted and we moved on……….eventually!

Time was spent as a family just hanging out, actually playing together, making a mess and generally eating all day.

There was time for talk; nonsense and quality and time for staring out the window.

I can’t remember the last time we honestly did that.

Time and all the obligations and distractions of life were not our dictators for a change.

Instead we had to accepted that we were at the whim of nature, destined to remain within the safe confines of our home and the unpredictability of the goings on inside it.

It’s a confronting revelation to know that we indeed aren’t in control of everything, even though we like to think we are.

The concept of immediacy and the momentum of technological distractions, means that we’re forever chasing life and never actually catching up with ourselves and each other.

Taking the time to stop chasing, stop procrastinating and just existing, is good.

And good is what we all need a little more of.

Not awesome, not great, not even productive. Just good.

An extreme weather event brought a forced ‘stop’ to a hectic life, a chance to calm the storm within and a timely message that simply just being, can do us all a whole lot of good.

Decisions…. Decisions

Decisions are relentless.

They can sometimes be the fleeting thought that is processed in the gut, or the grey matter that hovers around, sucking energy from us.

They can follow us through life and replay in our minds or appear casual, flippant and maybe even relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

But there is no denying the power they have to direct our lives and the lives of others. Like an intricate web, our decisions steer us in a multitude of varying alternate pathways and play out in a ‘Choose your own Adventure’ narrative, that is our life.

So this week, with a few bigger decisions than usual to be made in our household, it got me wondering about the significant role decision-making  plays in all our lives and the power it has in determining not just our future, but our present state of affairs.

So, how do we go about making decisions?

Well, there is no end to the research and psychological studies on this topic and a great place to start is Dan Gilbert’s TED talk ‘Why we make bad decisions’.

‘The only thing that could destroy us is our decisions’ Dan Gilbert

When faced with a decision we often do one or a combination of the following:

  • Weigh up the pros and cons, do a bit of background ‘research’
  • Go with our gut – supposedly trusting our ‘instincts’ is something no one can define, but we all are capable of
  • Ruminate on it with a trusted friend
  • Look back to our past, drag up memories of experiences where we’ve faced a similar situation.

These are all pretty much common place go to’s when making at least some of our more ‘important’ decisions, like whether or not to purchase a house or move to another country.

But in truth, there are many hidden aspects to decision-making that have just as much power in steering us towards certain thoughts and then actions.

Who we are, affects the type of decisions we make

Now this probably comes as no surprise to you, but for me (at least) it provided an ‘Uh ha!’ moment.

According to Herbert Simon there are ‘Satisficers’, those who are happy to approach decisions with the view to opting for a satisfactory or ‘adequate’ solution.

This is me; ‘should I have a piece of chocolate cake?’ Weigh up some odds ‘not very healthy for me, but mmmm so damn tasty’. Consider some consequences ‘will I feel happier partaking in a little treat?‘, then make decision ‘Go on then’ …. eat cake.

And then there are ‘Maximizers’, those who require perfection, nothing but an exhaustive search is optimal to reach a decision and then, they still deliberate on whether they really made the best choice after all.

Can I know how many calories are in that cake first? Will I be having cake later in the week anyway? Will I feel guilty while eating it and therefore negate any enjoyment I might achieve while consuming it? Uhhhh

Maybe it looks good, but doesn’t actually taste good! Is cake what I really want right now? Is it $6 I could be saving to go towards that holiday I’d rather have?

Fascinating to note here that Satisficers often feel happy or ‘satisfied’ with their decisions, while Maximizers tend to feel regretful post decision-making.

I’ll admit that placing ourselves into these two finite categories of decision makers, ‘Satisficers’ V ‘Maximizers’ is not ideal, but it did make me laugh a little when I pondered which categories my husband and I more commonly fitted in to.

It now makes sense why he ruminates on them, and I’m too flippant making them……decisions, that is.

Quality control

There is of course the whole issue of ‘uncertainty’ like an umbrella, overarching all decision.

When making a decision we are inevitably basing it on an event that is yet to take place, so of course the element of the unknown can be enough for some of us to place a decision in the ‘too-hard’ basket, before we’ve really even begun.

Likewise, the notion that once a decision is made, it is somewhat irreversible, can send even the most free-spirited thinker into their quiet corner.

“The truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty” Malcolm Gladwell ‘Blink’.

We may think the more time and effort spent making a decision, the better off we’ll be with the outcome.

But Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book ‘Blink’ that sometimes it is those snap decisions, made in the blink of an eye, (still with a degree of education and control), which can be just as valid and ‘good’ as those made cautiously and over time.

Then there is that ‘fifth dimension’, that ‘unexplainable’ part that makes up us. The unconscious, unpredictable, somewhat symbolic responses that can influence our decisions.

We don’t know why we did it really, we just did. Or we come up with an elaborate story to justify our decision, but at the heart of it, we really can’t explain why we did that.

According to Gladwell, “people are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.” I like this.

So, what next?

Maybe just accepting that we can’t know or have it all, is the starting point to avoiding a meltdown while making a decision.

Maybe knowing a little better who we are and what ultimately matters to us, can allow us to feel more in control during the decision-making process.

But, as I’ve discovered (yet again…. the hard way) this week, a lot of this doesn’t help a great deal when the decision is not yours alone to make and you live with a ‘Maximizer’.