2.55: Happiness vs Life Satisfaction

I’m working on creating an overview of my life philosophy I call “Flow to Your Dream”. During the process of writing this overview I decided to consult a page I created about happiness on my old blog. The information still felt pretty sound to me but I thought I’d look into any recent developments in happiness science and I ran into something awesome.

Life Satisfaction

While this is a concept I was already familiar with, something I hadn’t thought about much was the trade-offs a person might make between short-term happiness and life satisfaction. A passage jumped out at me from an article titled “A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist says most people don’t really want to be happy”:

[I]n Kahneman’s research measuring everyday happiness—the experiences that leave people feeling good—he found that spending time with friends was highly effective. Yet those focused on long-term goals that yield satisfaction don’t necessarily prioritize socializing, as they’re busy with the bigger picture.

Such choices led Kahneman to conclude that we’re not as interested in happiness as we may claim. “Altogether, I don’t think that people maximize happiness in that sense…this doesn’t seem to be what people want to do. They actually want to maximize their satisfaction with themselves and with their lives. And that leads in completely different directions than the maximization of happiness,” he says.

The whole article is worth reading, but this sums up the difference between happiness and life satisfaction succinctly.

The key here is memory. Satisfaction is retrospective. Happiness occurs in real time. In Kahneman’s work, he found that people tell themselves a story about their lives, which may or may not add up to a pleasing tale. Yet, our day-to-day experiences yield positive feelings that may not advance that longer story, necessarily. Memory is enduring. Feelings pass. Many of our happiest moments aren’t preserved—they’re not all caught on camera but just happen. And then they’re gone.

Flow (Happiness) and Dream (Satisfaction)

I kind of intuitively built life satisfaction into the system based on articles I’ve read and personal experience. A person is always in one of three modes which are technically all happening at the same time:

  1. Past (Reflective)
  2. Present (Experiential)
  3. Future (Planning)

I believe a high life satisfaction comes from how in alignment the narrative (story) of your past, present, and future are. People are constantly enduring terrible things because of how it fits into the larger narrative of their Self. Things that immediately come to mind are military service/training, medical school, and competitive training. I don’t think people would describe the experiences inside of activities like those as pleasurable or fun but they would, under the right circumstances, be described as satisfying.

In my philosophy you want to optimize day-to-day/moment-to-moment experiences to be “enjoyable”. This enjoyability was originally focused on three things; pleasurable experiences, gratifying experiences, and flow states. Being cognizant about including satisfactory experiences which may not be pleasurable, gratifying, or “flow” but add to the overall “life satisfaction” through enhancing one’s life narrative is a crucial component to overall happiness.

Something else to consider is modifying the narrative of one’s life such that events and activities which may neither be enjoyable or satisfactory fit into the larger dream narrative. Things like work and doing chores.

I’ll leave you with a really cool detailed breakdown and analysis of happiness data from across the globe (“Happiness and Life Satisfaction”).


  1. Is contentment happiness? Doing day to day rituals that are part of a necessary routine can be satisfying. Sometimes not doing them can make you feel uneasy sometimes, especially when they are part of your day to day routine. Feeling uneasy impacts your feeling of contentment. I think people who are always looking externally for something or someone to make them happy and are never content with what they have and don’t appreciate life’s daily routines never find happiness.


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