How the Pursuit of Satisfaction, Not Happiness, Makes Us Truly Happier
By Allen S. Weiss, MD, FACP, FACR, MBA, Chief Medical Officer of Blue Zones Project. The former President and CEO of the NCH Healthcare System in Naples, Florida, Dr. Weiss also had a solo practice in Rheumatology, Internal Medicine, and Geriatrics for twenty-three years. He is board-certified in all three specialties and is recognized both as a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology.
Happiness is an essential quality for a good life and a positive measure in successful blue zones communities. But what exactly is happiness?
The discussion starts in antiquity with Aristotle’s views of happiness in Nicomachean Ethics that are still relevant today. Aristotle claims that true happiness is not fleeting, like a feeling, but rather a measure of how well you have lived to your full potential. People pursue money or pleasure because they believe these things will make them happy; but in Aristotle’s view, true happiness is always an end in itself.
Happiness is being happy in the moment, but life satisfaction is being happy about your life. Satisfaction with your life overall also creates happiness. Various aspects may be great or not as good but taken as a whole, three characteristics define life satisfaction which, in turn, creates happiness.
Pursue Meaning & Purpose
The source of satisfaction must involve something of importance, done well. Education, healthcare, and ministry have the common purpose of helping those served with knowledge, well-being, and faith, respectively. These three examples of noble professions all place the student, patient, or parishioner’s interests ahead of one’s own.
Importance is broad and inclusive. Martin Luther King said: If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Doing all activities soundly is satisfying and meets this first criterion.
Put Forth Great Effort
The source of satisfaction requires effort, usually over a period of time. Winning the lottery doesn’t create happiness. In fact, according to “Unlucky in Riches” by Ellen Goodstein, it does quite the opposite. Long, productive careers helping others, improving society, increasing productivity, and sustaining the environment are some of the many efforts that not only require grit and perseverance but also include ups and downs. The cliché “nothing worth having comes easily” is true.
Be Responsible for Your Role in the Bigger Picture
If the giver had not been involved, would the fundamental knowledge have transferred, the better health have resulted, or the comforting feeling have happened? The same is true for the street to sparkle, or similarly, for society to improve, the GNP to grow, or the carbon footprint to shrink.
Being a competent parent, a caring spouse, a loving child, a productive worker, and a good friend are wonderful sources of life satisfaction that create happiness. Few can say they have saved a life, changed a student, or added wellness to a neighborhood, but each of us has the opportunity to create happiness with our friends, families, and faith-based communities. Recognizing, practicing, and enjoying these values creates more happiness and joy for all.
By Dr. Allen S. Weiss, Chief Medical Officer, Blue Zones Project