Are You Satisfied with Your Life? If Not, What Can You Do?
Are you satisfied with your life? We all feel that this is a crucial question, but it can be tricky to answer!
If someone asks me whether I’m satisfied with something more specific, like my dinner in a restaurant, or my new car, or even a job, or perhaps even a marriage — it might be easier to give a straightforward answer. But if someone asks you “Are you satisfied with your life?”, the question can seem really hard to answer, because our lives are such complex, intricate things.
Work by psychologists such as Prof. Ed Deiner of University of Illinois has shown that this is a much more useful and revealing question for people to ask themselves than whether or not they are “happy”. Happiness is necessarily very transient, and our happiness is up and down a lot.
Instead, when we ask ourselves, “Are you satisfied with your life?” we get at deeper, more fundamental questions in our lives viewed as a whole. This sense of deeper satisfaction gets very close to Jung’s meaning when he emphasizes that a sense of meaning is far more important to a person than “being happy”. As he puts it,
The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
I’m certainly aware in my own journey of times when my satisfaction with my life has been very high, and times when it has been remarkably low. The times when life satisfaction is low always have a great deal to reveal to us.
When You’re Really Dissatisfied with Life
When life is really dissatisfying for us, it manifests in a variety of ways. We may experience anxiety or depression. The flavour may seem to have gone out of things. It even seem to us that whatever we have in our lives is just never enough.
Psychological theorists, both ancient and modern, have suggested that human beings are always dissatisfied. In a sense, that’s true. We are always motivated to seek something — that’s what makes us human. This “divine dissatisfaction” that the poets speak of keeps us continually moving in search of more fulfillment; this is what keeps artists and others always stretching and growing.
Yet there’s another, more troubling state, which we could call absolute life dissatisfaction, where, so to speak, everything turns into dust as soon as we taste it. This is a common experience of people in modern North American life: people surrounded by “stuff”, but the level of unease and discontent experienced by many has never been greater.
The High Cost of Going Through the Motions
Lots of people respond to this type of life dissatisfaction by just doubling down on what they’ve always done. A person who has focussed all their energies on getting and maintaining a beautiful home may feel a sense of hollowness or emptiness that their house pride just doesn’t help resolve. Yet, instead of genuinely asking themselves “are you satisfied with your life?”, someone might simply choose to double down on getting a bigger and better house. And when they’ve got that one, they’ll look for an even finer place. We can keep up this futile channelling of our dissatisfaction in this way, possibly for a whole lifetime, never getting nearer to lasting value.
In Search of True Value
Yet, often a major life transition like the loss of a loved one, or entering into midlife transition or later life can lead the individual in a different direction. It can often be that the question “Are you satisfied with your life?’ points the individual in the direction of the undiscovered parts of the self.
The paths that bring some sense of meaning, purpose or satisfaction can be quite unexpected. The mathematician discovers a love of cooking. The realtor becomes devoted to her tango classes. The parent moves from grieving the empty nest to passionate devotion to a cause that he or she finds meaningful.
Often, /a-midlife-transition can be of vital assistance in helping the individual to find the wellsprings of value and meaning in life that are truly unique to the individual.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst