Is there a difference between being happy and being satisfied?


Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash


There’s a line I kept feeding myself, before now.

I wasn’t going to be one of those people who was always trying to change, because I wanted to be happy.

To me, satisfaction and happiness were hand in hand. If nothing else, you could be satisfied with being happy.

These days, I can’t.

It’s funny, I’ve never been this dissatisfied with my life before. Every one of these 2019 Medium posts (you know, all three or four of them) has made me seem like the most miserable person I know. Constantly changing, on the move. Culling parts of my life; extra time, extra stuff in my house, extra concerns I don’t have left to give. I can’t sit still, can’t keep my relationship together, and I can’t stop either.

Yet, somehow, I’m happier than ever.

It’s not coming from satisfaction, I can tell you that.

Days where I try to rest are the toughest. That’s not good, considering that I usually stop to rest because I need to do so. It certainly makes me happy, laughing at my favorite binge-worthy content or playing a vibrant game. It always happens, however, about an hour in, that I start to feel guilt. I still laugh, still watch, but I frown too. I feel twitchy, fatigued. Defeated.

The problem isn’t really with those moments. I’m not doing anything wrong right then and there. The problem is all the others, a lack of productivity spilling from one moment into the rest. I don’t feel productive. A life of half-completed projects has taught me distrust, specifically in regards to myself. I plan incessantly, constantly thinking about what I want to achieve. Now that I’m writing these down as goals, I’m learning that I’ll actually manage about 60% of it.

I guess that’s going to have to be okay.

My problem with goal-oriented life, as far as I can tell, is the knowledge that human nature will eventually keep you from completing them all. I put myself in a sheltered lifestyle very early on, avoiding situations where there was a possibility to fail. One of my middle school teachers was big on writing goals, having us check in to see how we were doing every semester. I hated it, every time.

To me, it seemed like I was being set up to fail. Either I’d do what I said I would, in which case, nothing would happen, or I wouldn’t mange to do it, and I’d feel badly about it. Keeping your word seemed like the minimum requirement, so writing it down only really set up the option to fail.

Still, the more I find I want to accomplish, the more I feel the need to write down my plans. This seems suspiciously like making goals to the contrary part of me, but I’m trying to convince myself that they aren’t goals, because it’s okay when I don’t complete them. I feel I have to write things down, in part because what I’m looking to achieve are large goals, and I need to see how they’ll add up, like a retirement account. Each baby step is something I can do right this moment, or this day, to get on the path to succeed.

Most of the time, I have yet to see the payoff.

Like I said, the road of my life thus far is littered with projects, discarded or forgotten. I’ve always been more likely to start a new project than to even get halfway through one. I’m happy with my life, I know I’m pretty lucky with how things are turning out and who I’m becoming. But I the happiness I feel generally and the positive feeling I have when I succeed in any one of the million tiny steps I want to take are two very different feelings. The difference, it seems, between happiness and satisfaction, is the time-span. Most activities that make me happy happen now, like getting ice cream or seeing friends. What satisfies me is an activity that I can see will pay off later.

Unfortunately, while I’m becoming aware of my need for that feeling, I’m also finding it’s lacking in my life. I’ve never been a particularly ambitious person, and I’ve always been content continuing the status quo before. I make a lot of this work I’m trying to do more emotionally charged than I need to, because it’s so new to me. I wish I trusted myself to keep going, to take breaks and pick up the work again after, but I don’t. I wish I trusted myself to be on the right path even when it deviates from where I’d planned. I wish I didn’t look at that 40% of what I told myself I’d do today and feel bad.

Some days I can manage those things, that level of support for myself I’d happily give anyone else. Some days I let the misery stop me.

Guess I’m just going to have to call that a work in progress as well.

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