Satisfaction – the highest happiness and good

Matthias Wenke

Details Matthias Wenke

We lead a life of prosperity and peace, with pension entitlement, health insurance and other social benefits. Why are we people in the West nevertheless so dissatisfied, so unhappy, so grumpy??

"All is well. Man is unhappy because he does not know that he is happy. Just because. That's all, everything! Who recognizes that will be happy immediately at the same moment." (Dostoevsky)

The buzzword contentment doesn't even appear in many dictionaries, but you can find happiness. Is that something completely different? Kroner's Philosophical Dictionary describes happiness as the "state of perfect satisfaction, perfect desirelessness". The 'Brockhaus' considers happiness to be the 'experience of joy in the face of the fulfillment of desires, the occurrence of positive events'. And 'Metzler's Philosophical Encyclopedia' asks 'whether the fulfillment of desires brings about happiness, or whether happiness does not rather occur when man has freed himself from all desires and passions'. So what is happiness? To attain something or to want nothing?

In some texts, happiness and satisfaction are used synonymously. Others use both terms for different things. Contentment is then understood more as a stable inner attitude, i.e. an attitude, and happiness as an unstable elation of joy, i.e. an emotion. It is agreed from ancient times to the present that happiness is the highest goal and good of human life. The Buddhist country of Bhutan has even declared the overall happiness of its population to be a state goal and considers purely economic goals to be inappropriate. Happiness and contentment include healthy well-being. According to the WHO, health is a 'state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'.

One thing is certain: all of everyone's efforts always have the purpose, directly or indirectly, of making people happier or more content, even if that's often not obvious. Because in the course of life, original goals, such as belonging or being loved, can become hidden behind secondary goals such as ambition or the pursuit of power through transformations. Because of such errors, in the pursuit of happiness, not infrequently, in the end, the exact opposite comes out. And so, for many people, being unhappy, resigned or in a bad mood seems quite normal. Contentment, on the other hand, is the absence of such negative emotions, a comforting underlying tension, ready and open to life, present, friendly, optimistic and trusting. Like a free stance from which to move uninhibitedly and joyfully in any direction that the situation at hand requires.

From the point of view of the science of consciousness, a backward explanation of satisfaction or happiness from certain neuronal patterns or 'happiness hormones' is an erroneous path, because it misunderstands primary mental phenomena as a secondary consequence of material processes and thus turns reality and the path of knowledge upside down. Strictly speaking, for instance, 'the brain' itself is a concept of the mind. A well-known pyramid model of human needs by psychologist Abraham Maslow (1970) assumes that higher-level needs – such as self-actualization – are formed only after fundamental ones – such as food or security – have been satisfied. Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood as 'first the food, then the morals'. The fulfillment of basic existential needs is certainly the prerequisite for contentment, but 'full and clean' is not enough. Another indispensable condition for a satisfied attitude toward life is the experience of belonging to others. The infant needs human closeness just like mother's milk. In the 1940s, psychoanalyst Rene Spitz proved that hospitalized, physically well-cared-for children become seriously ill without human attention. Social is as existential as food, and for life.

Confidence, courage and freedom from fear are also basic conditions for life satisfaction and companions to a sense of belonging. We can live outer freedom only when we inhabit a safe inner space that makes us courageous, curious and independent. Satisfaction is therefore a component of emotional stability, a key factor in personality psychology. Last but not least, satisfaction is a common variable in demographics and market research, for example as job satisfaction, life satisfaction or product satisfaction. It is defined there as the result of a comparison of target and actual values, depending on a person's level of aspiration. According to the theory of person-environment fit, in a given living environment 1. the offers to the needs and 2. the requirements fit to the abilities of a person. Different manifestations of these factors then condition different types of satisfaction or. Dissatisfaction, which in turn leads to different adjustment behavior. For example, if someone experiences themselves as having low competence, they are more likely to be 'resignedly satisfied' in a given situation, whereas a person with high self-esteem is more likely to be 'constructively dissatisfied,' meaning they will want to improve their situation.

The optimal fit of all factors would favor a flow state in which an activity is stimulating and satisfying 'as if it runs by itself'. Achieving goals can make you satisfied, such as when an unsatisfactory situation has been actively changed. All organisms act not causally but finally and strive for self-actualization, d.h. after realization of the growth and action possibilities invested in them. If they are restricted in this, stress and unhappiness follow or this can lead to illness and death. Satisfaction may depend on comparison with others. It is not the absolute income that counts, but the distance to colleagues. A satisfaction can release new dissatisfaction at a higher level. For example, one has worked a long time on a diploma to feel 'more equal', and then one believes only a doctorate is really 'enough'. Buddhistly, we recognize the mind poisons of pride, envy and jealousy in measuring ourselves against others. The more dissatisfied and anxious you are, the more you cling to status, things or conditions. External goals, however, are not sustainable as compensation for internal deficits.

Satisfaction, then, involves a certain relationship with oneself and the world, and is rooted in the deep meaning one gives to life even as a child. Above all, our early pre-linguistic, often erroneous sense beliefs permeate all our thinking, speaking and doing as a global sense of self, world and life, as self-instructions, sense of value or conscience. For example, dissatisfied people rarely experience happiness because they tend to look at the world with hostility and suspicion. As soon as we become aware of these patterns and their origins, the mind recognizes itself and we can act more freely. Being happy has many positive consequences, such as increased relationship skills or better health. People in happy partnerships live longer and cope better with difficulties. Content humans experience the fellow human beings benevolently and friendly as fellow beings, who would like to be just as happy as themselves. Nor is there any reasonable reason to feel superior or inferior to others.

In a psychological training course, the lecturer asked: "How exactly do you actually create a problem??" This question caused general amazement, since most people assume that problems are something objective outside themselves. But if one analyzes what exactly happens, one always comes to the conclusion that problems do not exist, there are first of all only neutral phenomena. We turn them into problems only by our opinion and all kinds of co-thought, which is not in the things themselves. Happiness and unhappiness are always states of mind, not external facts. It is as the Indian realizer Tilopa (988-1069) explained to his disciple Naropa (1016-1100): 'It is not appearances that bind you, but your adherence to them that binds you."

Many of our secondary goals in life are cover-ups of originally primary goals. You achieve what you want, but don't feel what you need. Maybe one wants to make a lot of money but is actually looking for security or appreciation. The Dalai Lama points out that sometimes not getting what you want can be a great happiness. Being a Buddhist does not mean giving up life goals, but giving up wrong goals, fixed ideas, attachment and rejection. Unpleasant feelings are still experienced, of course. But one can become aware of their impermanence and practice letting them pass through the mind like clouds, observing them and perhaps even comprehending their essence and insubstantiality instead of acting foolishly out of them. So the view widens to the rich possibilities in the space that is one's own mind.

As soon as we then include in our life orientation still the happiness of all others, our egocentric goals slowly transform into super-personal and timeless ones. But this is not about charitable actionism, that would be 'compassion turned enemy'. Meant to reshape the way we look at things. Those who lovingly encounter and indiscriminately value fellow human beings act sensibly and are happier. Guaranteed to work. You don't take your problems so seriously and experience the world populated with potential friends among whom you can create and contribute. One can also always realize that our problems mostly arise from fictitious thought clouds that reproduce the past. Do not feed them and stay in the present, there is no problem. As soon as really one appears, one goes boldly through. Some suffering is a mortgage from childhood days when helplessness was useful. It is a mistake.

We must create our own personal conditions of possibility for contentment. External obstacles are a mirror of our spirit. For example, if we lack time, we must look fearlessly at what is important and what can be changed. With our activity in the world, we structure temporal, physical, social, energetic, emotional, and content spaces that originate from and revert back to our minds. All living conditions are created by our own intentions and deeds and are continuously generated by us. Karma is incorruptible: "Fire can cool down, wind can be caught with a net, sun and moon can fall to earth, but the ripening of actions cannot fail."

As a Buddhist, it is very clear: to be happy, you do not have to obtain anything additional or add anything to what you already have. You only have to remove or let go of something. So happiness is precisely not the more of something, but the less of something else. And these are the veilings of the mind, the five poisons of the mind ignorance, attachment, anger, pride and jealousy. The original mind of all beings has had Buddha-nature since beginningless time. He is fearless, wide as space, compassionate and joyful. If this were not so, we could not feel any desire for liberation from suffering at all. Because our lives depend on so many conditions, we cannot value highly enough to be born now as human beings under favorable circumstances in a free country and to be able to work with the spirit.

There is no provisionality in life, you can't postpone happiness and satisfaction into the future and make it dependent on ever-changing conditions. We also have a kind of obligation to our fellow human beings to make the best and most joyful of our lives – only in this way can we benefit them. Let's become ourselves the people we would like to meet. This doesn't mean always walking through the world with an obsessive grin on your face; it can also mean working through difficult situations with unwavering patience. Courage makes satisfied, fear depresses. We should also not put conditions on meditation practice or postpone it to a fictitious time when we have 'enough time', are 'wealthy' or 'problem-free' enough. If we don't do it now, in the midst of imperfect life, we never will. Spiritual development is not a Sunday activity, it is the highest purpose and very precious. It is an irretrievable opportunity to have this human body right now and understand Buddha's teaching. If you put it off, soon death is at the door and you realize it's too late. Now is the beginning of everything.

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