The annual World Happiness Report has ranked nations on an international happiness index since 2011.
Published last month, the 2023 report ranks Finland as the happiest country in the world—for the sixth consecutive year!
Many opinions exist, but if you ask Finns why they are happy, you’ll discover some pretty basic insights that begin with a sense of satisfaction.
What Is Satisfaction?
Satisfaction can be elusive. Its origin in Latin is satis (enough) and facio (to make, do, create). And to satisfy means to do enough. Thus, enough action.
Here, “enough” implies any action or situation that can achieve a state of fulfillment and completion. How can we better recognize and accept that possibility?
Kristian Wahlbeck, a psychiatrist and lead adviser with Mieli Mental Health Finland, explains this truism: Finns tend to find happiness in “the small things,” such as “family and good friendships, spending time outdoors, or enjoying a good cup of coffee; many Finns find happiness in their everyday life.”
Arto O. Salonen, a professor at the University of Eastern Finland who has researched well-being in Finnish society, explained it this way: “When you know what is enough, you are happy.”
The happiest people in the world aren’t “happy” as we may define it: they are content. Their consistent level of satisfaction is joined with the truth that accepting limits creates satisfaction.
So can we develop an awareness of “enough” to appreciate contentment when we achieve it and recognize its possibility in any activity?
Before answering this question, I’ll explore how we create and cultivate dissatisfaction.
The notion that accepting limits creates satisfaction can be confusing and oblivious. It rubs against American consumerism, striving to accumulate, possess, or achieve more.
Here, we see the nature of our suffering: the obsessive, goal-oriented behavior that drives modern life. We strive for our wants and cravings without questioning or understanding their fleeting nature.
In Buddhist psychology, attachment to desires is the root of all suffering, or dukkha. Buddhism focuses on the intention, motivations, and actions to recognize and dissolve indulgences and attachments to counter desire.
When we ignore the idea of “enough” in our lives, we often fall into a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction. The relentless pursuit of more material possessions, achievements, or experiences can lead to a constant feeling of inadequacy or chasing a fleeting sense of happiness. This can result in stress, anxiety, and a lack of fulfillment.
One dilemma in recognizing satisfaction might come from our confusion about abundance.
We define scarcity as lacking or insufficient. Yet we define its opposite—abundance—as a state of excess, plentiful, ample, and lavish.
Ironically, when internalized, this notion of abundance as plentiful finds us lacking. Rather than proclaim “enough,” this view provokes the need to seek more.
Doesn’t it make sense to define abundant as enough to scarcity’s not enough?
Framing abundance as “enough” supports our notion of satisfaction.
Too Many Choices
Coaches and consultants often observe “busyness” as lacking time and focus on time management, self-care, or prioritizing. Yet there may be something more fundamental and confusing to examine: choices and choosing.
As humans, we have never had more choices than we do today. However, do those choices bring us more satisfaction?
In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that the diminishing returns of additional choices paralyze rather than liberate us.
Although Schwartz posits that freedom of choice is critical to our well-being and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy, he argues that eliminating choices in certain situations can greatly reduce anxiety.
MAXIMIZER or SATISFIER?
According to Schwartz, how we view choices characterizes us as either a Maximizer or Satisfier. (See the previous blog.)
The Maximizer has no standards. They operate from an ideal of “the best” rather than the idea of “good enough.”
The Satisfier operates from predetermined criteria for what is good enough and applies it to any option before them. When the product or service meets their standard, they are satisfied and stop searching.
This mindset recognizes that “enough” is possible. The Satisfier also comes away with another lesson: some choice is necessary, but more choice is not always better.
FOMO or JOMO
Choosing often means confronting “choice shock,” claims Schwartz. He concludes that social media has created a context where “nobody’s good enough, and you’re always worried you’re missing out” – known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
Many of us have become Maximizers. The level of dissatisfaction manifests in daily life. Each choice becomes an epic battle of confusion, research, and analysis to seek out the best. Our mantra: never settle for second best.
How can we shift our internal compass from FOMO to JOMO?
JOMO, or Joy of Missing Out, is about understanding yourself, your needs, and your desires and choosing to live in a way that energizes you. To embrace JOMO, we need to practice reflecting on our choices to understand better what’s driving our FOMO.
This piece on the shift from FOMO to JOMO offers some tips, from slowing down and disconnecting to reflecting, reconnecting, and testing.
The Striving Cycle
Dissatisfaction lives within. The inner critic compares us with others or social standards, highlighting our deficient nature with an impulse to overcompensate for our perceived deficiency. This cycle of deficiency keeps us trapped and isolated, confirming that we are “not enough.”
A big culprit of this cycle involves “perfectionism,” which can be defined as having excessively exacting standards and being overly self-critical. Studies have found three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, socially-prescribed, and other-oriented. Like multitasking, many wear being a perfectionist as a badge of honor.
A column in Psychology Today details ten signs of a perfectionist mindset. The perfectionist mindset impacts our thinking (all-or-nothing) and actions (procrastination). This blog focuses on these four (numbers 1, 3, 4, and 9 ) as we explore striving and how limits can create satisfaction.
- Self-worth is based on achievements.
- Constant comparison to others.
- Persistent thoughts of “not being good enough.”
1- Human Coding
Evolutionary psychology pins our “striving” on genetic coding from the first of our species who raced to keep ahead of starvation or volatile external conditions. The race to keep up with wants and cravings is termed the “hedonic treadmill,” according to Arthur Brooks of Atlantic magazine: “Getting off the treadmill is hard. It feels dangerous.”
Scholars have shown that our acquisitive tendencies persist amid plenty and regularly exceed our needs. “As we grow older in the West,” Brooks writes:
we generally think we should have a lot to show for our lives—a lot of trophies. According to numerous Eastern philosophies, this is backwards. As we age, we shouldn’t accumulate more to represent ourselves, but rather strip things away to find our true selves—and thus, to find happiness and peace.
Instead, we compare ourselves to others or an ideal version of ourselves. We seek refuge in immediate gratification: a spending spree, a glutinous binge, or hours on social media hoping for enough likes and emojis to fill the void.
The commercials we consume between streaming programs and scanning social media posts fill our consciousness with fears of missing out. Constant consumption becomes the norm to fill our mental, psychological, and emotional space. We feel isolated in a crowded and connected world.
2- Human Guilt
When we find some space—perhaps a gap in our schedule—we are left with the guilt that we can be more productive, more satisfied, or doing something. The guilt finds us grasping for the next thing to accomplish and achieve, thus starting the cycle again.
Anxiety, guilt, and shame concoct a “loser cocktail” that activates our perfectionist mindset to challenge our self-worth. We are “not enough” and must keep up and be productive.
In these moments, pausing and practicing this mantra supports acceptance and remembering what matters most:
I am enough.
This is enough.
This moment is enough.
I accept this moment as it is.
The allegory of the Mexican fisherman offers insight into human nature.
This “striving cycle” begins with recognizing the impulse to become more from a sense of “not enough.” At any moment, that impulse can invite a pause. We can declare enough, notice the breathing body, sharp mind, sense perceptions, and heart to care.
The Language of “Enough”
The mindset of “enough” is the entryway to “abundance.” Not more, but enough. In recognizing enough, we develop gratitude to appreciate the preciousness of human life. “Enough” may be the critical discovery for being fully human.
The complex relationship between human happiness or satisfaction and the idea of “limitations” varies across philosophies and spiritual traditions to find contentment and happiness.
- Buddhism: Buddhism recognizes the truth of “dukkha” or dissatisfaction. The Dharma reveals the importance of overcoming attachment and desire as sources of suffering, with the understanding that craving and clinging to desires can never bring lasting happiness. By accepting limitations and cultivating contentment with what is, one can cultivate inner peace.
- Stoicism: Stoics believe in a rational, well-ordered system that emphasizes living in accordance with nature and accepting things beyond our control. They embrace limitations, believing attachments to external outcomes lead to dissatisfaction. Happiness comes from aligning our desires with what is within our power.
- Taoism: Taoism encourages individuals to live in harmony with the Tao, the natural way of the universe. Taoist philosophy promotes simplicity, humility, and an appreciation for the natural flow of life. By recognizing and respecting limitations, one can find contentment and happiness by aligning with the natural order of things.
Scholars, philosophers, and sages have understood the importance of limitations. The issue becomes one of practice. How can we bring this wisdom into our lives?
The context of “enough” refers to having a sense of sufficiency or satisfaction with what one has or achieves rather than constantly striving for more. It involves recognizing limits to material possessions, desires, and ambitions. Within boundaries from a commitment and with discipline, we can find fulfillment.
We tend to conflate commitment with passion, attachment, or obligation (see This and This blogs).
Business philosopher Peter Koestenbaum highlights the importance of the relationship between freedom and commitment:
One of the gravest problems in life is self-limitation: We create defense mechanisms to protect us from the anxiety that comes with freedom. We refuse to fulfill our potential. We live only marginally.
With commitment, we leap into a different—unknown—view of ourselves that evokes freedom and fear. If we are unwilling to commit to our fullest potential, we settle for less.
Buddhists view commitment as a vow to embrace a way of life: who we are and how we live. This Buddhist approach to commitment comes not from an obligation to another but from a vow to oneself. We commit to our fullest potential: to be awake.
Commitment cultivates the courage to act in the face of our fears and justifications to face whatever we are experiencing. This view of commitment is fundamental and all-encompassing, giving greater meaning to life. We face whatever we are experiencing now rather than indulging in personal desires or unease, providing a sense of purpose that can be very consoling and calming.
As a practice, commitment involves surrendering to a possibility while foreclosing on others to offer direction. Commitment requires choosing intentionally and being moved by possibility. We are willing to engage in trade-offs—between what’s comfortable and what’s possible or between past beliefs and future possibilities.
The challenge with commitments often involves clear seeing. We can develop the ability to discern and scope—not to overpromise or overextend ourselves and not to grasp beyond our reach. To develop clarity, we practice boundaries and discipline.
One way to view boundaries is as agreements about our time, personal space, the scope of activities and consumption, and our level of involvement in roles and responsibilities. In all facets of life, boundaries exist to limit and satisfy. With enough sleep, I feel rested. With enough exercise, I gain energy. With enough food, I feel satiated.
To satiate, the root of the word “satisfy” is to gratify—to do enough. Overdoing these activities makes me feel drained, bloated, exhausted, or depleted. Whenever we feel overwhelmed or overextended, it is wise to check our boundaries or notice if we need agreements.
Creating boundaries from commitment offers the awareness to cultivate an appreciation of life’s details. Appreciation is the recognition and full understanding that finds us valuing a situation or person.
As we focus on the elegance and interconnected nature of our lives, we experience a natural gratitude and enjoyment for what we have, what we accomplish, and how fortunate we are. Yes, even the sipping of a cup of coffee can evoke deep gratitude for the many people, products, and natural resources that joined to create this moment.
As a practice, we recognize the need for boundaries during setbacks, when overextended, experiencing a loss of dignity, or when disrespected. With reflection, we can discern missing agreements or re-evaluate an existing boundary. Where might we communicate expectations or create new agreements to support “enough?” With healthy boundaries, we can focus on the details of our lives and bring awareness to “enough.”
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Discipline brings a method to commitment and boundaries. The notion of discipline is often viewed in a punitive context. Just mentioning the word transports us to third grade and being reprimanded by our teacher or parents.
Some synonyms for discipline include development, education, method, practice, preparation, regulation, self-control, self-restraint, and will. In the context of “enough” and “satisfaction,” having discipline with “freedom” will be key.
Discipline brings us to the fullness of this moment, offering important trade-offs. We become better at remembering the freedom of choosing between what’s comfortable and what’s possible.
This view of discipline involves a steadfast resolve and confidence to move toward intentions, avoid distractions, and return to commitment. Anything in life that’s worth developing—including satisfaction—requires discipline.
For instance, a runner’s discipline concerns proper nutrition, supplements, sleep, and shoes; proper exercises, stretching, and routines; reading habits to gain knowledge on the skills, practices, and impact of running on the body; measurement of heart rate, steps, pace, and overall time; different running scenarios; and a community of runners to practice with.
Becoming a runner requires the discipline to run even when we might not want to.
With discipline, we cultivate a practice of letting go of or abandoning preoccupations, indulgences, and habitual energy. We develop the confidence to stop feeding our neurotic patterns to become free from our conditioning.
Scholar and Meditation Master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote:
Freedom means that you are free from being belabored and enslaved by your own mind. You are free from preoccupations, free from that kind of imagination (pg 218).
As a practice, discipline involves remembering our basic freedom. We gain the confidence and self-control for self-regulation to free us from indulgences that can undermine our intentions, motivations, and commitments.
Joy in Satisfaction
The combination of commitment, boundaries, and discipline offers practices that focus attention on the experiences that bring meaning to each moment. We appreciate “the small things,” experience gratitude, and cultivate joy. Striving gives way to satisfaction.
By recognizing and embracing limitations, we gain a clearer perspective on what truly matters to us, leading to a more sustainable and fulfilling sense of happiness.
Contentment can arise from appreciating the present moment and finding joy in simple pleasures rather than constantly chasing after external markers of success or happiness.
We can cultivate awareness of “enough” that appreciates contentment when we achieve it and recognizes its possibility in the details of our lives.
The Chinese text Tao Te Ching, compiled around the fourth century BCE and the foundation of Taoism, reveals this wisdom:
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.
When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
Reading Time: 11.5 min. Digest Time: 15.5 min.