I think we all wish there were some kind of potion to make us happy and sustain it. Billions, trillions even, have been made from the ‘happiness’ industry in many forms. But happiness is perhaps the wrong word as to what we are truly searching for as humans (who are friggin’ hard to please). When I was working my third job when I lived in Sydney, cleaning houses, the man who lived there with his family decided one day to get stuck in and help me. That day we formed quite an unexpected bond and one thing he said about life and happiness has stayed with me ever since.
It was quite a modest Sydney-style semi-detached town house, tucked away from the chaos of Bondi Junction, down the road from Bondi Beach herself. Beautiful, sharp interiors; his wife was Swedish, so it had that effortlessly stylish minimalist touch with a twist of Bondi-chic – think black marble countertops in the kitchen, proud brass taps, pale wooden floorboards, odd-shaped statement chairs dotted around the house with art-decor lights craning above them, crisp white duvets and blankets, wrought iron framing the balcony, massive, wide French windows. Anyway, he decided to help me start the cleaning process and we got chatting. The place was tidy, but it was filthy. Over the next few weeks he needed me to scrub the place from top to bottom, which was fine. I was in my final few weeks before I was due to leave, so I was grabbing any cash I could. I had three jobs at the time so that statement was quite literal.
Throughout that Saturday, we formed said unexpected bond probably because he had two Swedish speaking daughters himself. We talked about my future, my family in Sweden, what I was doing in Australia, what my plan was when I went back home. At that point, it was a sunny mid-December in 2018, the end of the year was wrapping up. I didn’t really have much a plan other than to get to Bali as soon as I had my last day at my main job, an activewear store in a giant, awful, polished Westfield shopping centre.
“So what do you want to do?” He asked as I helped him move the bed back after we’d hoovered behind it. Ah yes. The million dollar question. I told him I wanted to work in publishing, maybe write at some point in the future, get paid for it. That tired, old naive dream.
“Honestly,” I started, “and I know this sounds so airy-fairy – but I just want to be happy.” I replied wiping the bedside tables. (Ahh how young I was.) He – let’s call him Bob – had an Argentinian folk song on in the background that I still can’t get out of my head to this day. The melody was full of colour, trumpets, passion, trilling away in a perfect chaos – I swear it unconsciously sped up our movements as we polished the skirting boards.
He paused: “Now, that’s a dangerous statement and I’ll tell you why.”
The sun strode through the open double doors and drowned the room in an bleached amber midday glow. I watched him as he finished his sentence, peeling a pillowcase off a cushion.
“You can go down the pub with your mates on a Friday, have a few beers, have a good time, and you’d be happy, right?”
“Right,” I replied.
“But would you be satisfied?”
And I’ve been thinking about that bloody sentence ever since. Thanks Bob.
While happiness and satisfaction are two completely separate things, they are not mutually exclusive. You can be both, but the two concepts exist in entirely different worlds. To be happy – in the abstract sense – is to chase short term joy, to sustain that for as much as humanly possible. But to be satisfied, that shit takes work and isn’t as finite or accessible as being happy is. Being satisfied is a constant work in progress and requires discomfort and indeed, some measure of unhappiness, to get there. In short, happiness can effectively be bought, but satisfaction needs to be earned, to be constantly worked on. Everyone can be happy, not everyone can be satisfied.
Ultimately, it shows the division of short term joy and long term joy, in my mind. In order to live a balanced life, you need both, but to feel truly content, you must ask yourself: does – whatever you are pursuing – this satisfy me, deeply? Does this align with my moral values? Does this not only make me feel good, but does it make me feel good as a person?
I guess what I’m trying to get at is to keep asking those deeper questions. What is it that’s missing? What do I need more of? How can I get that? Not from other people or things, but from myself? Those might seem the most obvious questions – or equally, the most ambiguous – but satisfaction is probably not something you can simply acquire in the first place. What is my point here? In this tangled mess of verbal waffle, I guess I’m trying to say there is – contrary to what we’ve been sold – something way more valuable than being happy – being satisfied.
What Bob said that day rattled me; it inspired me to look inward, to stop chasing material things to replace happiness, to really get to the root of what will sustain contentment for longer, without worrying when I’ll next need to top up my joyometer – isn’t that what we humans are constantly chasing? What we’re afraid we will lose?
While it’s infinitely more challenging to go after what you know is good for you – whether this makes you happy or not, a bonus if it does the former – in the long run, choosing satisfaction over short term happiness will always serve you the most. And we all deep down know this! Yet being human, it’s in our nature to keep doing the things we know we shouldn’t do, because the thrill of the rebellious is just too sweet. But to consciously choose to do the right thing, even in the face of discomfort or inner protests, it will always feel right and with that, you won’t only feel happy, but truly, genuinely satisfied.
And if you still aren’t feeling inspired, may I suggest a humble tune by the Stones?: