Satisfaction: The Least Popular Emotion With Your Brain

Did you know that the most powerful emotion in the human being is satisfaction? However, our brains aren't programmed for us to feel it too often. Do you want to know why?
Satisfaction: The Least Popular Emotion With Your Brain
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 22 November, 2022

When was the last time you felt satisfied? It’s highly likely you’ll struggle to remember. After all, it’s pretty hard to reach the point when you feel that everything is going your way.

Does this mean you’re a masochist? The answer is yes. That’s because the human brain isn’t programmed to experience satisfaction as many times as we’d like. In fact, research has proved that when we feel satisfied, we stop looking for improvements and more benefits. In other words, we become complacent and less creative.

Therefore, the most intense and extraordinary human emotion is the one that’s denied us. This explains why we become obsessed with perfection, why some of us suffer from impostor syndrome, and why we’re rarely happy with everything we do. As such, we always feel an almost innate need to ‘improve’ ourselves and to do a little better.

Satisfaction is the Holy Grail that we fight for every day but rarely achieve.

“Oh, satisfaction! I don’t think I could live without it. It’s like water or bread, or something absolutely essential to me.”

-Sylvia Plath-

woman who feels satisfaction
Although satisfaction is the most powerful emotion, it’s also the least frequent in our personal repertoire.

The first cousin of happiness

Satisfaction is wanting to achieve something and getting it. Satisfaction is finding that, suddenly, each and every one of our expectations are met. The satisfied person vibrates and lights up with joy and well-being because they feel good about what they’ve achieved or with what surrounds them. There’s not a single crack in their demeanor where discomfort or restlessness can sneak in.

In your daily life, you experience momentary satisfactions that, in a way, give you a certain sense of joy and balance. For example, you might be satisfied that your coffee maker works well and gives you a delicious cup of coffee every day. You’re also pleased to have a job, good friends, and happy and healthy children.

Therefore, you could be forgiven for thinking that satisfaction and happiness are two sides of the same coin. However, they’re different. That said, they do complement each other.

Satisfaction is the cognitive evaluation that you make when verifying that a specific dimension is adjusted to your wishes and expectations. On the other hand, happiness is an occasional intense emotional experience, much more fleeting than satisfaction.

Although your life isn’t perfect, you only need to feel satisfied with what you have, what you do, and what surrounds you to experience the kind of well-being that promotes good mental health.

It’s better to feel satisfied than happy

Your goal in life shouldn’t be to ‘be happy’, but to feel satisfied with yourself and with the life you have. This conception builds the foundations of genuine psychological well-being. Daniel Kahneman, the psychologist and Nobel Prize winner gave the same message in some of his research and also in his podcasts.

It’s quite common for us, as humans, to focus on goals like having good jobs with high incomes only to discover later that none of this makes us truly happy. The problem lies in our focus. Satisfaction is the most rewarding emotion and the one that can offer us a more lasting sense of positivity.

The problem is that it’s not that easy for most of us to feel truly satisfied with something. We’re extremely demanding and we might even seek satisfaction in the wrong areas, in territories that feed anxiety more than calm.

Woman who can't feel satisfaction
Experts claim that being eternally satisfied isn’t good for our species.

The difficulty in feeling satisfied

It’d be fabulous to feel satisfied all the time. Nevertheless, our brains aren’t programmed for us to feel this way. In fact, they prefer that we continue developing behaviors of effort and improvement. This is confirmed in a study published in the Review of General Psychology.

Our ancestors were forced to overcome a thousand and one difficulties and challenges and transform environments to guarantee their survival. If they’d been content living inside a cave, hunting, and gathering seeds, we probably wouldn’t be where we are now.

As human beings, we’ll never feel completely satisfied because we need more incentives to continue advancing and improving. Added to this is the human characteristic of negativity bias. It means our minds are naturally focused on paying attention to the negative and not so much on the positive. This allows us to anticipate risks and devise strategies to contain any threats we may be faced with.

The cost of all these biases often translates into excessive burdens of anxiety that we’re forced to deal with.

Well-being amidst dissatisfaction

Dissatisfaction favors the development of our species. If we never experienced this kind of uncomfortable and annoying feeling, we’d be at a disadvantage compared to others. We wouldn’t make any effort and would give up without a fight. The key is to strike a balance.

The most important thing is to feel satisfied with the life you have. Broadly speaking, it’s good to feel that what you are and what you have is acceptable and sufficient. Naturally, it’s no fairy tale and there are aspects on which you must work a little more.

That said, the dissatisfaction generated by your daily routine is tolerable. For example, the dissatisfaction you feel about the current project you’re working on drives you to improve.

It’s okay to recognize that you still have a lot to learn and that you feel dissatisfied with yourself because there are infinite things to discover, improve, and learn. The shadow of discomfort allows you, at some point, to reach your best version. But only after investing effort and work, of course.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bastian B, Kuppens P, De Roover K, Diener E. Is valuing positive emotion associated with life satisfaction? Emotion. 2014 Aug;14(4):639-45. doi: 10.1037/a0036466. Epub 2014 Apr 21. PMID: 24749643.
  • Boehm, J. K., Winning, A., Segerstrom, S., & Kubzansky, L. D. (2015). Variability modifies life satisfaction’s association with mortality risk in older adults. Psychological Science, 26, 1063-1070.
  • Cohn MA, Fredrickson BL, Brown SL, Mikels JA, Conway AM. Happiness unpacked: positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion. 2009 Jun;9(3):361-8. doi: 10.1037/a0015952. PMID: 19485613; PMCID: PMC3126102.
  • Cheung, F., & Lucas, R. E. (2014). Assessing the validity of single-item life satisfaction measures: Results from three large samples. Quality of Life Research, 23, 2809-2818.
  • Kahneman, Daniel & Deaton, Angus. (2010). High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-Being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107. 16489-93. 10.1073/pnas.1011492107.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.