Between happiness and satisfaction

Intrigu­ing arti­cle that Ephrat Livni’s arti­cle of Decem­ber 21 in Quartz describes the think­ing of cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Kah­ne­man, 2002 Nobel Prize in Eco­nom­ics. If I sum­ma­rize well what is already, in this arti­cle, a sum­ma­ry, Kah­ne­man pro­pos­es the dis­tinc­tion between hap­pi­ness and satisfaction.

As we know, human beings seek hap­pi­ness. The road to it is dif­fi­cult, perched on good inten­tions and obsta­cles. Com­pa­nies are scram­bling to make their employ­ees hap­py, even cre­at­ing posi­tions as hap­pi­ness man­agers, pro­mot­ing “fun” at work as a val­ue. As for adver­tis­ing, aren’t they the Gospels of mod­ern times ? Every­thing will be clear­er, tasti­er the day you buy, dear con­sumer, this eco-respon­si­ble and refresh­ing tooth­paste. Every­thing will seem accom­plished when you have done your laun­dry, which will make the white whiter with, as a bonus, a smell of laven­der that will make you dream of an impos­si­ble Provence.

Being with your fam­i­ly on Christ­mas Eve makes you hap­py, hav­ing a drink with friends makes you hap­py. This has been proven and we must encour­age it. A sin­gle per­son is doomed to die like a fruit fly in vine­gar. The emer­gence of social media is like so many cham­pagne glass­es with ephemer­al bub­bles and so… quan­tifi­able. From now on, there is no point in meet­ing each oth­er because we can love each oth­er at the right time. It is almost the same with­out the risk of catch­ing each oth­er’s colds. And all those sta­tis­tics, all those memories…

Oh, of course, there are those flu­id exchanges that can only be done in per­son, there are those feel­ings that have not yet been the sub­ject of sophis­ti­cat­ed algo­rithms. Take, for exam­ple, the col­league who, every night, near me, says to me “Noooooo” when he sees me leave. This lit­tle game is almost a dec­la­ra­tion of love even if I know full well that it is not. It is part of our dai­ly hap­pi­ness to which we are attached as if this rep­re­sents the miss­ing link in our chains of existence.

But, Kah­ne­man warns us, hap­pi­ness is not sat­is­fac­tion. This term hides anoth­er one : sati­ety, and this oth­er one : mem­o­ry. Feel­ing that hunger is sat­is­fied, that thirst no longer exists. To be sure that these sens­es are full. Is this pos­si­ble if we do not have the proof, the mem­o­ry of what we have expe­ri­enced ? And what does that mean ? That’s where it leads us, to the mean­ing of life.

At the end of our lives, are we full ? Have we reached that some­thing that makes us say that we have real­ized our­selves ? But then what ? After the ban­quet, the par­ty ? Life goes on ? Maybe, but usu­al­ly with­out us. What remains is mem­o­ry, the sed­i­ment that under­lies His­to­ry and Cul­ture. Peo­ple are only ful­filled if they know where they come from and think they know where they are going. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing to see them curl up when the illu­so­ry Face­book­liers and Instabub­bles return the futil­i­ty of their impov­er­ished mem­o­ry to them.

What makes us sat­is­fied is not the quan­ti­ty of vis­its made to friends and rel­a­tives, but the qual­i­ty and mem­o­ry of these meet­ings. At a time when the St. Lawrence Riv­er was freez­ing all win­ter long, entire fam­i­lies were divid­ed, see­ing each oth­er only dur­ing the long cold sea­son. There were the let­ters that took three months to arrive. This mem­o­ry was pre­cious, a qui­et lit­tle stream.

But now mod­ern times are flood­ed with new rivers of inter­ac­tion. Kah­ne­man says he is dizzy and has stopped want­i­ng to respond to the thorny quest for sat­is­fac­tion. He has moved on to some­thing else, to quan­ti­fy­ing data noise, to lis­ten­ing to Big Data.

For my part, I breathe calm­ly. There is a great sat­is­fac­tion in being sat­is­fied with the mys­tery of life, in lis­ten­ing to his heart smile to this friend who says “noooooo”, to my dreams that only want to enjoy.

I can only hope to meet those who will bring me the plea­sure that I can sow in the soil of my mem­o­ry, where the only opaque and sin­cere sat­is­fac­tion seems to last. For whose ben­e­fit ? I don’t know. I rely on my igno­rance of things.

Yes­ter­day, it was rain­ing dogs and mon­sters, today it is snow­ing. My neigh­bours have three cats. One is black, the oth­er white and the lit­tle fool is grey. This sum­mer, a tree shrugged its shoulders.