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As with any emotional state, language helps us as much as it can to put an emotional state into words.

When we think of satisfaction, we quickly think of two states – the desired state of satisfaction and the undesired state of dissatisfaction.

However, this representation leads to a dead end, because we are not dealing with an on and off button that we can set to two states like a light switch.

Instead, it is helpful to realize that both states of mind can come in a healthy (functional) and an unhealthy (dysfunctional) form. This leads to four approaches:

  1. Functional happiness

Not much text is needed here – we all (hopefully) know what functional contentment feels like, like spending the first summer day of the year sitting on the rooftop patio or in the park with friends and a drink in hand, enjoying the moment. A promising approach to cultivate this type of happiness is through thankfulness for the content moments.

  1. Dysfunctional happiness

Dysfunctional happiness differs from real happiness in that it brings “no time to enjoy”. This often looks like this: We are basically looking forward to a drink on the roof terrace with friends, but we can’t fully enjoy it or can’t enjoy it for very long. This is because our thoughts dictate that there is still a lot to do and that we can’t take a break. A promising approach to escape this false happiness is to create space and time to enjoy and to treat yourself with something pleasant after a success.

  1. Functional unhappiness

While the unhealthy kind of happiness with permanently increased workload often leads to burnouts, we owe the power to change to a functional unhappiness. We are bothered by a process in the office, then we suggest a better one. We are annoyed by dubious offers from LinkedIn messages, then we block the senders. We’re annoyed by the bad feedback for our lasagna, then we pick a new recipe or cook it just for ourselves.

Ultimately, it can be argued that many breakthrough innovations had their origins in a functional unhappiness of at least one person. Without that unhappiness, we would not have most of the things that contribute to our happiness today. A promising approach to escape this unhappiness is to get involved and change things that you can influence.

  1. Dysfunctional unhappiness

While the unhealthily satisfied often don’t give themselves a break, the unhealthily dissatisfied see things as problematic, bad, or unfair by default.

Their own filter is set for dissatisfaction. The weather is not as desired, one is constantly treated unfairly when it comes to salary, and politics is basically incapable of solving problems anyway.

A promising approach for this type of unhappiness is to look for honest feedback from others and reflect on your own behavior. A professional coaching can be blessing to accomplish this.

So where does the journey lead?

As is often the case, we start with an inward look and a self-analysis. In which of the four described states do you find yourself more often and in which ones less often?

Are you satisfied with this or does the desire for change arise?

Next, it’s about goal setting, which is – sorry dear guidebooks – counterintuitive and not geared towards permanent contentment.

Rather, it’s about cultivating contentment both as a baseline noise and in pleasurable moments, and addressing your own dissatisfaction the rest of the time.

First the dysfunctional discontent that doesn’t get you anywhere, and then the problems that bother you and that are valuable precisely because they bother you. Because the great thing is that every dissatisfaction resolved brings a fulfilling sense of satisfaction with it. Being able to enjoy this feeling of satisfaction to the fullest is then the final step towards a healthy cycle of satisfaction.

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