Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I can't get no satisfaction...or can I?

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.


Alfie said...

It's nice that someone finally explained why I'm way too addicted to Suduko. A quick road to easy satisfaction, huh? And it makes sense. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.


Gail Dayton said...

I've started working crossword puzzles every day. Sudoku isn't in the local paper, and when I try it, I screw it up totally--I'll just have to get my math genius daughter or dad to help me understand it again... But yeah, it feels good to be able to see all those blanks filled in--or just how long that afghan/shawl you're crocheting/knitting is getting to be. (I like the one-hook, one-loop thing of crochet, personally.)

(Okay, and the nonsense word I have to fill in to post this comment is mybfukse...which ... well...never mind.

Nancy Herkness said...

No fair, Gail! Reading your nonsense word almost made me snort Diet Coke through my nose!

The only thing I ever learned to crochet were snowflakes that you then soaked in starch so they turned stiff and could be hung on the Christmas tree.

I swear Sudoku is not at all mathematical--it's just patterns. Really! If it required real math I wouldn't be doing it. BTW, I stink at crossword puzzles. How embarassing is that for a writer to admit?!?!

Glad I could help explain your Sudoku addiction, Alfie!

Nancy Morse said...

For me, satisfaction comes from the small things in life. Here in South FL, the county (or whoever) cut down my beloved orange tree because a tree within 1900 feet was infected with canker virus. I raised that tree from a baby when I moved here 14 years ago. Have you ever smelled orange blossoms at night? Anyway, from my last crop of oranges I saved a few seeds and put them in pots. They sprouted, but all died except one. For months it struggled for life, but it's a tenacious little thing, and I now have a new orange tree growing in a pot. It's only about 5 inches tall, but I can't tell you the satisfaction I feel knowing that my precious tree still lives. It's a small pleasure that brings me immense satisfaction.

Colleen Thompson said...

To me, nothing it more satisfying than reading a manuscript I've just completed and feeling transported by the story. It's the culmination of so much effort -- a delayed gratification that's wonderfully addictive.

It makes me feel almost sorry for people who don't write. :)

Other sources of satisfaction: growing fresh tomatoes (something I used to love before we moved to a totally shade lot overrun by hungry varmits) and cooking something new and delicious and challenging (for me, the "challenging" requirement means in has more than two steps and three ingredients). It's especially satisfying if my husband cleans up the mess!

Nancy Herkness said...

Growing things is something I think a lot of people get satisfaction from. I'm looking out my window at the purple and white crocuses blooming in my back yard and they make my heart sing, so I can understand the delight you take in your tenacious orange tree and your homegrown tomatoes.

Colleen, I have to admit that the joy of cooking eludes me. My husband loves to make fancy gourmet desserts (alas for my waistline) but the only thing I enjoy about cooking is eating the results.