Satisfaction, according to neuro-scientist Gregory Berns, is not the same as happiness. Satisfaction is the feeling you get when you engage in a challenging and novel experience. Happiness is what you feel when something good happens to you, like winning the lottery. Satisfaction is active; happiness is passive. In his book Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment, Berns says that the pursuit of satisfaction is about personal growth and learning something new.
Aha, so that explains the “challenge binge” I’ve gone on in the last month or so. The timing is not coincidental. I’m about to type “The End” to the first draft of my romantic suspense novel. Yes, that’s a good feeling but there’s lots of polishing to be done before it’s truly finished. I also feel a great sense of loss because while revisions are pleasurable in their own way, I’ll miss the white hot creativity that a first draft requires. I’ll miss my characters too; I’ve gotten to know them pretty well by now and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Here’s what I’ve gotten into in my search for new sources of satisfaction:
1) I’ve discovered Sudoku, the Japanese puzzle in which you fill in a grid of squares so that the numbers 1-9 do not repeat vertically, horizontally or within each of nine boxes. It makes me feel as though I’m exercising the mathematical part of my brain, which generally doesn’t get much of a workout, although Sudoku is really just about patterns. The squares could be filled in with dog breeds (never put two poodles in the same row) and it would still work but, hey, I can pretend I’m doing higher math. Even better, when I fill that last number in, the whole puzzle looks so, well, complete, that it’s very satisfying.
2) I’m training for a 5K race (benefiting a local charity) which takes place in April. My son has run in the race for three years and I decided to join him this year, even though I hate to run. It’s truly amazing what my decrepit body can do when pushed in a very careful and methodical way. When I ran the whole course, hills and all, for the first time without feeling as though my legs were going to fall off, it sent a huge rush of satisfaction coursing through my brain.
3) Knitting may not sound like much of a challenge but I just took it up again after many years of never touching a needle. Did I decide to just knit a nice little neck scarf or a pair of mittens? No, I embarked on an enormous (six feet long!) shawl for my daughter in a pattern I’ve never even seen before. Did I go back to the yarn store to get help when I encountered something in the directions I’d never done? No, I looked it up on the internet and suffered through some trial and error. So far the shawl looks pretty much like the photograph in the pattern book. When I get to the end of a (very lo-o-ong) pattern row and spread out what I’ve knitted for a quick quality check, I get an amazingly strong sense of accomplishment from seeing how the work has grown just from the tiny motions of my fingers.
Okay, so none of these are climbing Mt. Everest but, for me, they represent very real ways of finding satisfaction. What I love about Berns’ definition is that it gives us some power over the quality of our lives. Winning the lottery (and believe me, I’ve tried) is beyond our control but finishing a shawl is completely up to the knitter.
So how do you get satisfaction? Remember this is a public forum, so don’t tell us about that kind of satisfaction.