Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman described this distinction as “being happy in your life” versus “being happy about your life.” Take a moment to ask yourself, which happiness are you seeking?
This might seem like a needless delineation; after all, a time experienced as happy is often also remembered as happy. An evening spent with good friends over good food and wine will be experienced and remembered happily. Similarly, an interesting project staffed with one’s favorite colleagues will be fun to work on and look back on.
But the two don’t always go hand in hand. A weekend spent relaxing in front of the TV will be experienced as happy in the moment, but that time won’t be memorable and may even usher feelings of guilt in hindsight. A day at the zoo with one’s young children may involve many frustrating moments, but a singular moment of delight will make that day a happy memory. A week of late nights stuck at the office, while not fun exactly, will make one feel satisfied in hindsight, if it results in a major achievement.
"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. ... Still, it’s worth asking if we want to be happy, to experience positive feelings, or simply wish to construct narratives that seems worth telling ourselves and others, but doesn’t necessarily yield pleasure."Or as Mandel taking with Kahneman in Haaretz:
"I gradually became convinced that people don’t want to be happy,” he [Kahneman] explained. “They want to be satisfied with their life.” A bit stunned, I asked him to repeat that statement. “People don’t want to be happy the way I’ve defined the term – what I experience here and now. In my view, it’s much more important for them to be satisfied, to experience life satisfaction, from the perspective of ‘What I remember,’ of the story they tell about their lives."This distinction captures many of my own feelings about how I spend time and conduct my life. Many of the things I do are not necessarily "happy" in the moment, like dragging my butt out of bed to cook hot breakfast for the family each morning, but it gives me satisfaction and fits with a narrative I like to tell myself about my life. Actually writing the entries for this blog isn't necessarily "happy," but it gives me satisfaction to do so.