Many of us grow up hearing admonitions like “When are you going to learn to be satisfied?” and “Enough is never enough for you. You better learn to be satisfied with what you’ve got. You know, there are a lot of people in the world with a lot less than you.” At first glance, this sounds like pretty reasonable advice. It almost gives you the sense that if you’re not satisfied with your current state of affairs, you’re somehow a bad person. I mean, for most of us living in The United States, we do have more than the vast majority of people living on the planet. And, it’s important to keep that mind. I’ve read that half the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day and doesn’t have access to a reliable source of clean drinking water. Those are very sad statistics indeed. That said, I believe that being satisfied is terrible advice. Let me explain why.
First and foremost, it is essential that we differentiate between happiness and satisfaction. I think one should always strive to be happy. Life is a beautiful gift and we should take pleasure in it and enjoy it. We should always be happy. Satisfaction on the other hand is something very different. To be satisfied means that you’re perfectly okay with how things are currently. That would include for example, the fact that half the world lives on $2 or less per day and live in earthen homes. Now, what kind of individual could really be satisfied with that reality? No one, I would think.
During my study of personal development over the course of many years I have come to understand that dissatisfaction is a creative state. Let me give you a prime example. What would the world look like if the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were satisfied with the modes of transportation which existed during the early period of their lives? At that time, one could travel on foot or by bicycle, on horseback, by horse and buggy, via early automobile, boat and ship. Now, I have read several biographies and watched numerous documentaries about the Wrights. From what I can tell, they were perfectly happy young bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio. Despite their happiness, they were obviously very dissatisfied – with the state of transportation at least. They had an enormous, almost preposterous, dream which they passionately shared. They were committed to developing a mechanized flying machine. And, motivated by their lack of satisfaction with the status quo, they were propelled into a highly imaginative and productive creative state. They put everything they had into their desire to make their dream a reality and see their goals transmuted into the physical realm. They were so devoted to this ambition that they risked their lives for it.
On December 17, 1903, Orville made the first successful flight which lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. Their dissatisfaction had worked; it had propelled human beings into the skies with motorized airplanes for the very first time. This extraordinary feat wasn’t achieved by aeronautical engineers – it was achieved by bicycle mechanics who had no formal education beyond high school. This stupendous achievement led to incredible advancements in daily life as we now know it. By the time Orville died in 1948, he would witness Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic Ocean in The Spirit of St. Louis, transatlantic commercial passenger flights, and Chuck Yaeger’s first supersonic flight in the Bell X-1. Orville Wright died at age 76, but if he had lived to be 98, he would have witness Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. It’s awe inspiring to think of what a little dissatisfaction and a lot of hard work can achieve in a relatively short period of time. Think of it: from Kitty Hawk in 1903 to the moon in 1969. It’s almost inconceivable what took place in 66 years once these two men from Ohio let the proverbial genie out of the bottle.
Look back at history and observe the great things people have accomplished through the powerful process of creative dissatisfaction. I think you’ll be quite amazed. Study the lives and contributions of individuals such as, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Henry Ford, Pablo Picasso, Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks. The list goes on and on. My admonishment to you? Be happy, but never be satisfied! Get creative. Who knows what contribution you may make to the world? I encourage you to make things better than they are right now. It will even make you a better person.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.