We usually think that satisfaction comes from attaining goals.
We think that the next pay raise, vacation, or relationship will satisfy us. That’s at least in part because it’s what consumerism tells us and what social media reinforces.
But, we don’t feel nearly as satisfied from attaining something than from making concrete progress toward it. Here’s why.
The Role of the Brain
Our brain constantly monitors our progress. It also notices when things are wrong or not how they should be. When it notices such things, it generates feelings of unease and discomfort that are resolved when we’ve done something that sufficiently solves these things. This is what pleasure usually indicates.
The Role of Difficulty & Understanding
Further, our enjoyment of certain things depends on how difficult they are. Completing challenging tasks can be very motivating and even lead to experiencing flow – one of the most satisfying ways to spend our time. If difficulty leads to flow depends on our understanding of the task we’re doing. Specifically, we need to recognize, interpret, and understand the difficulty of an action.
The Role of Feedback
We also need to understand the feedback we get from that action. Only through the combination of understanding the action sufficiently and then interpreting the feedback, we get from it correctly, does it feel satisfying to us.
Putting it all together leads to the following satisfaction-formula: Pleasure + Challenge + Understanding + Feedback = Satisfaction. That’s why satisfaction comes less from attaining a goal and more from what you must do to attain it. This means that progress toward a goal leads to more satisfaction than the attainment of that goal.
Joseph Everett’s video "Why do we find Satisfying things so Satisfying? (Neuroscience and Pleasure)" inspired this post. Much of the details in this post are based on his video. ↩︎