Would You Rather Experience Joy or Satisfaction?

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Now that you’ve exploded your stomach celebrating Thanksgiving, here’s something that will explode your mind.

Don’t be afraid. This is a good thing, for what grows back will be stronger. You’ll be stronger. There’s a reason for this. After you discombobulate your brain, things settle in a way that reveals greater understanding about you and about life in general.

Let’s start with a couple of simple definitions.

Definition #1: Joy. According to Merriam-Webster, joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” It is akin to such words as “delight,” “gaiety,” and “bliss.”

Definition #2: Satisfaction. Merriam-Webster defines satisfaction as a “fulfillment of a need or want.” It is reflected in words like “contentment” and “gratification.”

These two definitions sound very familiar, don’t they?

Indeed, Merriam-Webster says satisfaction is “a source or means of enjoyment” and the “state of being satisfied,” (i.e., “pleased or content”). The same source says joy is “a state of happiness or felicity,” “happiness” being defined as “a state of well-being and contentment.” Thus, “contentment” is the intersection of joy and satisfaction.

Don’t let this seeming equivalence fool you. As similar as joy and satisfaction appear, the two concepts represent subtle shades of difference that can be very meaningful.

There is a sense of “compensation” when you think of “satisfaction” that doesn’t necessarily conjure up images of “joy.” For example, if you’re hurt in an accident and in a lot of pain, you certainly aren’t happy, and that means you cannot be experiencing joy. Yet, when the insurance claim is fulfilled and you receive money as a result, you can, at least, be “satisfied.”

While it may not seem apparent at first, you can definitely experience joy without satisfaction, but it takes a lot of discipline. Think of a form of soulless contentment. You are happy without the luxury of just compensation.

This is the kind of joy the Bible refers to in James 1:2: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” It’s like saying, “Hey, I may have suffered dramatic injuries in the accident – I may never walk again – but at least I’m still alive.”

Some would say this is the joy of the oppressed. It’s a depressing joy. That’s the irony of this joy, and why joy without satisfaction, while theoretically possible, it is unimaginable to most Americans.

And therein lies the power of the dichotomy. What is a dichotomy? It is a choice between this or that – between two things.

At its simplest level, a dichotomy can pit two opposites, for example, “good vs. evil.” For most of us, it’s an easy decision to pick “good.”

These are not useful dichotomies. They don’t reveal much except in the most extreme cases. In other words, having someone pick “good” tells you nothing about that person. On the other hand, it’s that rare bird that picks “evil” who raises your eyebrows in the fashion of Mr. Spock. Of course, this person more than “fascinates” you, it downright scares you.

When presented with dichotomy words that have very similar meanings, however, analyzing the choices can uncover some very powerful insights. Think of what it means to have to choose between two words like “life” or “liberty.”

Both are desirable… together. But what happens when you separate them?

The dichotomy forces you to decide which of these you prefer: life without liberty or liberty without life.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Are you willing to do anything to stay alive or are you willing to do anything to stay free?

This is a fork which can perplex you. The road you take tells you more about you than you might want to realize. History tells us those who are free value life more while those who aren’t free value liberty more. I suppose that’s a warning for this experiment we call “America” but a good sign for humanity in general.

Setting aside the “life vs. liberty” dichotomy for now, let’s return to the more topical “joy vs. satisfaction” dichotomy. Before you read any further, close your eyes and take two minutes to reflect on this dichotomy and then pick one word or the other. Don’t worry, there is no incorrect answer.

Which word did pick? “Joy” or “Satisfaction”?

What might it mean to value joy over satisfaction?

If we go back to the definition of “joy,” you’ll see it embodies the emotional choice. Selecting “joy” over “satisfaction” suggests you’re more comfortable immersing yourself in the world of feelings rather than the world of facts. It can also mean you’re more self-confident and can remain calm in the most dismal of storms.

What does it say about you if you prefer satisfaction over joy?

Again, return to Merriam-Webster and how that dictionary defines “satisfaction.” It focuses on a “tit for tat” kind of balance. It’s likely if you find yourself in a situation where you perceive there is no fair compensation to maintain that balance, you’ll be unhappy. The outcome to you matters less than insuring there’s a level playing field.

Now, here’s the caveat to the above: It all depends.

Your answers, in fact, anyone’s answers, are most assuredly situational. What do I mean by that? It means the analysis I’ve given you cannot be taken seriously. It means any time you answer a question and some analyst interprets your answer, you should take it with a grain of salt.


Such an interpretation analysis fails if it’s conducted without taking into consideration the context of your response. This may sound too obvious, but before any analysis can start, you must first answer the question “Why did you pick what you picked?”

A proper analyst, therefore, requires an iteration between you and the analysis. It is more revealing to know why you chose the word you chose. That’s why there’s no right or wrong answer.

Do you get any joy for this reality, or are you merely satisfied with it?

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