What’s The Difference Between Happiness and Satisfaction And How To Be Both

Everybody wants to be happy. All the time. All day every day. But how often do we stop to think about what really means to be happy? Twice a day? Three times? I’ll bet on never. It turns out that we want to be happy but we have no idea what happiness is all about.

Welcome to class students. Today, we’re going to observe the difference between happiness and satisfaction. What makes a person happy and what makes him satisfied? Which is more important, happiness or satisfaction? Also, am I happy when my endgame plays out as I hoped or am I satisfied?

You may think, “WOW. Aren’t happiness and satisfaction the same thing?” Not a damn bit. They are completely different from one another and understanding the differences between happiness and satisfaction will help you feel cosmic joy and out-of-this-world delight.

Behind the Curve of Happiness and Satisfaction

Let’s Define The Word Happiness

Happiness is about how you feel. Now. At this current moment. Is it pleasant to be you at the moment? If yes, you’re happy.

It’s best described as an emotion. A momentary experience that is pleasant, feels extremely good and gives you a massive dose of dopamine. The downside (one of them) is that it goes away rather quickly.

What Makes a Person Happy?

When you get a raise you feel happy. When you go out with your BFFs you feel great. When you watch your favorite show in your cozy apartment and you’re eating a hotdog with your dog right next to you, life is just pure bliss.

However, you can’t really force yourself to be happy. You are either happy or you’re not.

Meaning, sometimes the show you’re watching will make you feel good, other times you’ll want to smash your screen with your favorite Starbucks mug because you forgot to buy Cheetos and now you can’t really enjoy the show.

That’s when satisfaction comes into play. If you’re not satisfied with your life, you’ll be less likely to feel joy.

Let’s Define the Word Satisfaction

Satisfaction is a bit different. Satisfaction is how you feel about your life when you think about your life in general.

Confusing? I know.

But imagine it like this: You meet an old friend and he’s asking you how’s life? If what pops in your mind feels good, then you’re probably satisfied with your existence.

Satisfaction is a state of inner contentment. An absence of want. Meaning, you’re not in an endless pursuit for more things to buy.

Satisfaction is when your needs are met. When your mind takes a bird’s eye view of your life and what it sees feels good. When you’re spending your days doing things that are important to you. That’s when you’re satisfied.

Most of the time we don’t think about our lives, we just live. That’s why we don’t really understand the difference between happiness and satisfaction. We think they are the same.

But while happiness occurs in real-time and it can be a one-time thing – going out on a date. Satisfaction is when our past decisions are having a positive impact on our life today – marrying the ideal person and having a stable relationship with that man/woman.

What Makes a Person Satisfied?

When the project you’ve been working on for a couple of years is finally finished. When you’ve completed a marathon. When your hard work in your job is acknowledged.

Satisfaction is still a feeling, but a more lasting one.

When you’re satisfied you’re at peace with yourself because you know you’ve done your job in the past and you’re also actively working on projects you love, now.

Which One Is Most Important? Happiness or Satisfaction?

It really depends on your beliefs and your inner desires. Or as Daniel Kahneman explains in a recent interview, “The circumstances that make people happy and the circumstances that make them satisfied with their lives are not the same.”1 But no doubt, aiming towards satisfaction is the right way to go.

Let me explain:

If you want to be happy, you can easily do it nowadays. There are a lot of things both online and offline that will boost your emotions for a while: sharing stuff online, buying more things, watching funny videos. The only downside is that you need to do these things repeatedly. Oh, and one more thing, these things will most probably lead to a dissatisfied life in the long run.

Let me elaborate some more.

Here’s a cool graph of a person’s life whose main goal in life is to feel happy:

difference between happiness and satisfaction - happinesss
When you focus on being happy
Sharing memes and interacting over social media surely feels good but it doesn’t really help you in the long run.

The highs in the graphs are the moments he’s eating a burrito and engaging with people on social media. When he’s watching a cool show and playing video games.

At these exact moments, this person feels good. However, outside the realms of “ultimate joy” that the internet can offer, the person’s average score of how he feels about life is around 3.

But since he’s busy doing all those other things that make him feel “happy,” at least for a short period of time, he doesn’t have the time to strengthen his relationships with his spouse because he’s constantly trying to engage with other people. Also, he’s not very interested in becoming an above-average performer in his daily job because something like this will require hard work and a lot of dedication – both things he hates. He’s OK with posting stuff on Instagram and that makes him feel good. At least for now.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, is to feel successful. Not just to be successful. But to feel successful. There is a difference.

If what you do every day is aligned with your inner beliefs about the world and your goals, you’ll be satisfied. Or in other words, you’re doing work that feels meaningful to you personally.

Like in the graph below:

The more time you spend doing things you love the more pleased you will be with your life.
When you focus on satisfaction
The more time you spend doing things you love, the more pleased you will be with your life.

Your average score is higher because when you’re not eating your favorite meal and when you’re not tweeting – both things that give you a quick burst of positive sensations – you’re doing something you deeply believe in. Therefore, you’re satisfied.

For instance, let’s say you think that the planet is doomed. That we’re producing way too much carbon dioxide. But instead of blaming the government and not doing anything, you decide to work towards a cause. You decide to raise money for planting 20 million trees around the globe.2

Every time you receive a donation on your site, your happiness bar will raise – you’ll feel joy. But even if there are no donations at the current moment, you’ll still feel good because what you’re doing is well-aligned with your goals and believes.

But here is important to note that satisfaction is not pursuing material possessions or money. It’s pursuing a long-term goal. Something that can potentially outlive you.

If money is your proxy for success, you’ll always feel miserable because you’ll always want more.

Satisfaction is different though.

Satisfaction comes from doing something you deeply believe in. When your desires are met and when you’re not constantly looking for more things to buy.

If Happiness Is Not What I Want, How Can I Be More Satisfied With My Life Then?

That’s a really tough question. A really personal too.

The answer depends on your worldviews and on the way you see the world. But since you’re here and you’re reading, let me give you a couple of actionable tips that will help you live a more satisfying life.

The suggestions below are based on scientific studies and stuff. Make sure you check them out and implement them in your life. OK?

3 Ways to Lead a More Satisfying Life Based On Science

1. Nourish Your Relationship With Your Spouse

In a TED talk, Robert Waldinger, a famous psychiatrist, and professor at Harvard shares the major lessons from the longest study ever made about human happiness. What they found was that people who had happy marriages and are still in a good relationship with their spouse feel really good about their life overall.

So, don’t get upset every time your spouse forgets the refrigerator open or the sink full of hair. If you love your partner, do your best to build a long-lasting relationship with him/her and avoid angry outbursts.3

2. Work Towards Having More Free Time, Not More Money

We all chase dollar bills but we should focus our efforts towards something else – having more free time.

According to a recent study, people who choose time over money live a much happier life.

And it does make sense. If you create a massive business that constantly drains you and keeps you busy. If you don’t have enough time to play with your kids and watch them how they grow up, what’s the point of having all of that cash?

The research shows that when people cross the $75,000 per year threshold in the US, they don’t feel happier. They simply have more money for luxury goods. But goods rarely lead to satisfaction. Quite the opposite. The more stuff we buy, the more we’ll ultimately want. When we repeat that a couple of times, we enter a negative feedback loop which doesn’t ultimately support our emotional well-being.4

The folks who try to earn more all the time are continuously chasing extra cash because, for them, that’s an indication that they’re good at what they do. But this endless pursuit of more money rarely ends well.

What can we do to fix this?

Set enough number. Say no to most things. Strictly protect your time and don’t allow mundane tasks to get in your way.

3. Live a Purposeful Life

You’ve heard it before: Find purpose; Once you have a purpose you’ll become a better person; Only once you have a purpose you’ll be truly happy; and so on.

But happiness is not acquired easily. It’s not like in video games where you kill the final boss and the village is now safe and all of the peasants are kissing your feet. No. True happiness and satisfaction come from executing something, a single task in most cases, for a long period of time. Some sort of work that makes you happy and it’s also valuable for society.

Think about your favorite video game character. What does he do? Fight the bad guys, explores dungeons, solve puzzles… Things like that, right? Or in other words, the hero is a doer. He is not sitting on the couch binge-watch shows on Netflix all day. No. He has a calling. He has a mission – to save the village from the tyranny of the evil machines trying to rule the planet.

Once the hero defeats the big bad machine, he’s finally with peace. It’s surely hard and there are a lot of obstacles along the way, but that’s what the hero must do to save the world.

It’s similar in real life. If what you do makes you happy and also helps humanity, you’ll feel good about yourself and you’ll ultimately be satisfied.

The only difference between real life and video games, except of course that in video games things aren’t real (duh!), is that there is never an ending.

To feel good about yourself till your last breath, you need to keep doing things – good things.

And it’s not only me saying all of those things. Similar things are observed by scientists in recent research. Purpose reduces the mortality risk. People who have a purpose live longer. And people with purpose to help others live a more meaningful life.

So, what’s your goal? How can you help the peasants in your village thrive?

Final Thoughts

While most people focus on happiness. On doing things that feel good at this current moment. True delight comes from your ability to create a life where you do work that matters for you.

That’s why everybody is talking about building online businesses and quitting their boring 9 to 5 job. That’s why people attend conferences and read self-help books. They want to turn their passion into a career. But contrary to what most articles online tell you, it’s not that easy. You don’t just apply these 5 techniques andShazam… you’re now super successful and blooming.

It takes time to create a good life. The life you want.

So, disregard the things that promise short-term joy and focus on such that will have a lasting impact on your life.

That’s what it means to be happy.


  1. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. It’s a great interview and I totally recommend checking FS blog.
  2. Yep. One guy is actually doing this. I encourage you to check the cause and make a contribution at teamtrees.org.
  3. More great information about the study can be found in The Harvard Gazette article.
  4. See the full study about the high income: LINK.
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