Satisfactio Graphics courtesy of livehappyOpens in new window

Satisfaction is one of a number of positive emotions or affective states. The term satisfaction comes from the Latin facere (to do or make) and satis (enough).

True to the meanings of the root words, feeling satisfaction means that one has judged or assessed that a situation is adequate; the situation or circumstance meets some standard or expectation that one has established. In psychology, a type of satisfaction that is frequently considered and studied is overall life satisfaction.

Evaluating one’s satisfaction involves making a comparison. A number of researchers have discussed the types of comparisons that an individual makes to determine his or her satisfaction level. Sirgy et al. (1995) identified several, including comparing what one has to what

  • one deserves
  • others have
  • one has had in the past
  • is ideal
  • is minimally tolerable
  • one has predicted for oneself
  • one would expect given one’s evaluation of one’s personal strengths and weaknesses

An individual may make one comparison or a number of comparisons to evaluate satisfaction in any particular circumstance.

Since satisfaction is relative, it often does not correspond directly to objective conditions. For example, people who are poor often report higher life satisfaction than some people who are rich. Olson and Schober (1993) have dubbed this phenomenon the satisfaction paradox.

An affective concept that is similar to satisfaction is happinessOpens in new window. Some scholars argue that the two concepts are identical (e.g., Veenhoven, 1984). However, others have made some distinctions.

According to some researchers (e.g., Campbell, Converse, & Rodgers, 1976), satisfaction and happiness are the two primary components of wellbeing. Satisfaction is the more cognitive (thinking) component, and happiness is the feeling component.

According to Schumm (1999), happinessOpens in new window is more often related to the quality of one’s interpersonal relationships than is satisfaction.

Supporting these theoretical ideas that satisfaction and happiness are distinct, some researchers have found that the same individuals may report high levels of one and low levels of the other. For instance, Adams (1997) found that between 1980 and 1992, African Americans reported that their level of satisfaction increased while their overall happiness decreased.

As Michalos (1980) discussed, satisfaction may occur in two ways. An individual has either achieved one’s aspirations, through meeting some absolute standard, doing better than others, doing better than one has done in the past, and so on, or one has lowered or given up on one’s aspirations, becoming resigned (in which case aspirations match achievements because the aspirations have now been lowered).

With achievement, one is both satisfied and happy with the situation. With resignation, one is satisfied—there is no gap between aspiration and achievement—but is not happy with the circumstance.

  1. Shumm, W. R. (1999). Satisfaction. In D. Levinson, J. J. Ponzetti, & P. F. Jorgensen (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human emotions (2nd ed., pp. 583 – 590). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
  2. Adams, V.H., III. (1997). A paradox in African American quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 42, 205 – 219.
  3. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., & Rodgers, W. L. (1976). The quality of American life: Perception, evaluations, and satisfactions. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  4. Michalos, A. C. (1980). Satisfaction and happiness. Social Indicators Research, 8, 385 – 422.
  5. Olson, G. I., & Schober, B. I. (1993). The satisfied poor: Development of an intervention-oriented theoretical framework to explain satisfaction with a life in poverty. Social Indicators Research, 28, 173 – 193.
  6. Schumm, W.R. (1999). Satisfaction. In D. Levinson, J. J. Ponzetti, & P.F. Jorgensen (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human emotions (2nd ed., pp. 583 – 590). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
  7. Sirgy, M. J., Cole, D., Kosenko, R., Meadow, H. L., Rahtz, D., Cicic, M., et al. (1995). A life satisfaction measure: Additional validation data for the Congruity Life Satisfaction Measure. Social Indicators Research, 34, 237 – 259.