- Happiness is an emotion and not a state of being. And you can’t fail at an emotion.
- There is something beyond happiness worth striving for that’s attainable—it’s satisfaction.
- Happiness is fleeting, but if you embrace satisfaction, it will endure and take you beyond happiness.
The psychological and philosophical pursuit of happiness began in China, India, and Greece nearly 2,500 years ago with Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and Aristotle. Modern society puts happiness on a pedestal—it’s everyone’s goal. In fact, the writers of the US Declaration of Independence endorsed and embedded its pursuit as one of its core principles. Yet, nearly 40 percent of the people in the world say they are not happy, and global misery has been steadily climbing for a decade. Over the past 30 years of my private practice, thousands of my clients feel they are failing at being “happy.” However, you can’t fail at an emotion. Happiness is an emotion and not a state of being.
Many books have peddled ways for people to become happy. It’s a subject that has always intrigued me, and in my new book, Beyond Happiness, The 6 Secrets of Lifetime Satisfaction, I explain why. The pursuit of happiness is inherently flawed because happiness is an emotion and, as such, it simply can’t last. But there is something beyond happiness that I feel is worth striving for—satisfaction. I’ve helped to show people how satisfaction is achievable and sustainable.
I’ve shared details about techniques individually in previous posts, but here are some dedicated highlights from all six of my Sustainable Life Satisfaction techniques—avoiding assumptions, reducing people-pleasing behaviors, facing fears, making decisions, closing tasks, and active self-reinforcement—to help you understand the big picture. When you’re able to coalesce, persevere, and sustain them, they can be life-altering.
Assumptions are guesses we make about what we think people are going to say or do. Typically, we engage in assumptions when we are feeling insecure about a recent interaction. Then, we launch into a series of overthinking patterns that rely on preemptive problem-solving. It’s critical to develop frustration tolerance and patience and learn to wait until something tangible happens…before acting on inference.
2. People Pleasing
People try to please to secure a feeling of indispensability and security to reduce fears of abandonment. The thinking error is clear: I am not worthy of love unless I am constantly doing for others. When people seek to please to feel loved and worthy, the reinforcement for their self-worth comes from outside of themselves. The alternative to this kind of social relationship is one of interdependence. With that comes increased feelings of inherent lovability.
3. Facing Fears
Facing fears is scary for everyone. It is important to learn to face and embrace your fears, to walk through them. This doesn’t mean doing outright dangerous things; it means doing things you are avoiding—asking for a promotion, applying to graduate school, raising your hand in class, filling out that form that’s been sitting on your desk. The aim is not to eliminate challenges and problems. Facing them head-on moves us forward so we can look back and say, I did that!4. Making Decisions
It’s difficult for all of us because we believe there’s a right or wrong answer, but every decision is just a guess, some better than others. Delegating decisions about your life to others doesn’t lead to more effective choices because they have their own DNA and their own fingerprint, so their ideas and guesses about life will differ from yours. Practice setting time limits to make decisions on your own. Always remember that you can change course and that making decisions builds feelings of self-respect and effectiveness in the world.
5. Closing Tasks
The starting of tasks is fun and exciting—for example, sitting around brainstorming about a billion-dollar idea. In starting, people think they have found happiness…(the) excitement…—and emotional “sugar high”—is transient. The real feast—satisfaction—is in closing. To make closing easier, break down your tasks into components. Only cross off tasks from your “to-do” list once you’ve completed them. The feeling of accomplishment will translate into feelings of self-confidence.
6. Active Self-Reinforcement
It’s important to reinforce ourselves for a job well done and not delegate this to others. If you rely on others for reinforcement, you will lose the ability to believe you can accomplish your goals. Make sure the reinforcers you choose feel authentic, that you can do them on your own, and that they’re not activities you would typically do. Reinforcing yourself provides a positive feedback loop that will keep you motivated to continue to do challenging things.
Once you understand that happiness is fleeting, you’ll have the power to embrace something enduring—satisfaction. Will there be moments of happiness thrown in? Sure! Whenever someone asks me if I’m happy, I respond, Are you asking me how I’m feeling? I’m feeling so many things all at once. You name it, and I’m feeling it. Then I explain, If you want to know how I’m doing, I’m constantly trying to live a more satisfied life. Achieving satisfaction makes the rest of my emotional landscape feel manageable.
Mark K. Setton, “The History of Happiness,” Pursuit of Happiness, 2023
Jon Clifton, “The Global Rise of Unhappiness,” Gallup, September 15, 2022.
Global Happiness Study, “What Makes People Happy Around The World,” IPSOS, August, 2019.