Two Paths Wednesday, Jul 29 2009 

It occurred to me this morning that there are two paths to happiness: satisfy others and satisfy yourself.

Most people are familiar with the first path, this comes in the form of positive feedback and praise from others.  It is most easily achieved when it is possible to know what will satisfy others and and providing this satisfaction.  Unfortunately the outward expression of these needs, desire, is not always an accurate reflection of what will satisfy so knowing how to fulfill this in ourselves, let alone others, is not as easy as it may seem.

The other necessity for happiness through satisfying others is a feedback loop.  This is the mechanism in which the satisfaction you have delivered is communicated back to its origin, pleasing its creator.  In situations where you are in direct contact with those you wish to satisfy this is simple, however in many cases there are several layers in-between and this stretches the loop; in some cases, severing it completely.

While satisfying others has its challenges, the second option, satisfying yourself can be even more difficult.

To achieve happiness through satisfying yourself you first must understand the difference between need and desire.  In the case of satisfying others this can at first be ambiguous, however through repeated attempts it becomes apparent what others need by observing their reactions and learning to discard unsubstantiated desires.  In the case of yourself however, it is difficult to do the same because of a lack of objectivity regarding the internal states of the subject.  The result is and increased potential for “beating the dead horse”; relentlessly pursuing something which you are certain will eventually provide satisfaction much longer than would be pursued when attempting to satisfy others.

Another common pitfall to the satisfying yourself path is high standards.  Most people interested in satisfying anyone commonly hold themselves to impossibly high standards.  Those who believe they do not simply haven’t looked hard enough into their own self-image, at some level, the expectations of oneself tend to exceed what is reasonable.  The only remedy I am aware of for this is to reduce the granularity of these expectations.  For example, if you are unsatisfied with your general level of accomplishment in learning a new skill, divide the larger measurement of the skill into smaller accomplishments and approach each with vigor, on an individual basis and if these are not completed to your satisfaction, repeat them until satisfaction is achieved.

Regardless of these considerations, happiness through satisfying yourself has one distinct advantage over happiness through satisfying others and that is the element of control.  Happiness through satisfying others requires knowledge of the others needs, the opportunity to experiment with the others to determine the relationship between their needs and desires,  a functioning feedback loop and of course the initial desire to satisfy others in the first place.  Happiness through satisfying yourself however eliminates the external factors necessary to achieve the goal.  With it come alternate challenges however these can be tackled through a combination of diligence and tenacity, coupled with self-examination and runaway-process checks to prevent beating the dead horse.

I’ll conclude with a third option, happiness through satisfying yourself and others.  In an environment where the requirements of both happiness through satisfying yourself and happiness through satisfying others are met, or the attainment of these requirements are within your control, this third option may be the best choice. 


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Check out this video on YouTube:

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See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Check out this website I found at

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