Mastering the Satisfaction Equation

June 3, 2022

On Memorial Day, I rose with the sun and took a walk thru Elm Grove Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. It is my favorite time of day to walk – when the world hasn’t quite woken up and everything is beautifully still.

Sometimes I listen to the sounds of nature as I walk, but on this morning, I saw there was a new episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The Rich Roll Podcast. This episode featured Arthur C. Brooks, a Harvard Professor, author, and podcast host. The subject of this conversation- How the Build a Happy Life.

It was a far reaching conversation that spanned over two hours and touched on many topics as it relates to finding success, increasing happiness, and building purpose especially in the later years of our lives.

A topic that really stuck with me was the conversation around satisfaction. Arthur explained the the problem with satisfaction isn’t attaining it – it’s maintaining it. It comes and goes. We achieve it and feel it in our core, only to have it leave. It’s in constant motion and can’t be contained. However, he did discuss a way to help experience that feeling on a more frequent basis. As Arthur put it:

“The secret to satisfaction is not having more. It’s wanting less”

He went on the explain that he uses a “satisfaction formula” in his life, whereby

Satisfaction = What you have / What you want

Applying this logic, satisfaction can’t only be reached by acquiring more and more. It can also be reached by managing and monitoring what you want (and seeking to maintain or decrease that). Arthur suggested having not only a “have management strategy” but also a “needs management strategy”

As I digested this topic for the next few days, it occurred to me this has a lot of applicability to my financial journey and relationship with wealth. What is my “have management” and “needs management” strategy when it comes to finances – and what should I include in my ongoing strategies surrounding haves and wants?

This will continue to be a work in process for me – but here are my thoughts as of today.

Have Management Strategy

  • Check in: Review net worth statement quarterly to see where I stand quantitatively (ie; what I own versus what I owe). And perhaps more importantly, complete a qualitative check in (how am I doing on a scale of 1 to 10 in the other buckets of life that matter to me: family, friends, relationships, health, faith, and business). Make changes as needed
  • Plan ahead and work backwards: I find real benefit in creating a longer-term financial plan and using that to set a current budget and savings plan. Of course, there will be variability and changes along the way. But knowing where you’re I’m going always helps put what I have into perspective
  • Worry mitigation: Worrying only causes a bad event to happen twice – once as I worry about it, and again if it materializes (which often times it does not). I remind myself of this all the time during bouts of market volatility. Reviewing what I have – and how that lines up with what I need to continue my life in present day helps keep worry in check and allows me to get back to enjoying this day. The future has always proven capable of sorting itself out when it arrives
  • Mindset shift: I try very had to focus on abundance over scarcity. When thinking about what I have (especially finances), gratitude always has to come first. Just a simple change of saying to myself, “you have xyz” instead of “you only have xyz” makes all the difference. Words we tell ourselves matter
  • Be where your feet are: Life is busy and at times, and that makes it easy for me to become distracted and not truly appreciate what I’m experiencing in the present moment. Being exceptionally present enhances everything I already have (and decreases my desire to have even more)

Want Management Strategy

  • Stay in my lane: Comparison is the thief of joy. I’m always reminding myself that what others are doing – especially when it comes to spending money/wants – (moving to a bigger house, buying cars, traveling to far off places) has nothing to do with me. I need to focus on my journey and what my plans are – and ignore what everyone else is adding to their want list
  • Prioritize wants– 20 years ago, I spent discretionary funds on clothes, home goods, or other “stuff”. That was where my priorities were. However, now, I focus discretionary funds on experiences. I care about spending time doing things I enjoy with people I enjoy being with. Before adding an items to the wants column (and acting on them), I need to evaluate whether it is a priority item or not. If it isn’t, perhaps I can do without
  • 24 hour rule – It’s pretty easy now a days to add to our wants instantly. We don’t even have to leave our house to buy just about anything. This makes it harder to put distance between wants turning into immediate haves. I’m trying to use a 24 hour rule – if there’s something I wish to purchase, I will add to cart and then wait 24 hours. Time gives me considerable perspective
  • Strong beliefs, loosely held – I heard this saying years ago and it’s stuck. This is how I feel about my long-term financial plan. I have put a plan in place regarding my future financial outlook with rigor and use that to guide my current day behavior. However, as we all know, even the best of plans will prove to be inaccurate. Life will happen. Estimates will prove incorrect. Priorities will shift. My current plan is exceptionally important to me – but so is my ability to remain flexible and adaptable over time. Wants may have to be removed or adjusted over time – and that is just fine
  • Connect the dots – any decision in isolation can seem like a good idea. I work hard to connect the dots. When it comes to wants, it is a constant balance between disciplined savings for the future and deferring too much joy away from the present day. Both have consequences and need to be weighed with each major want

This was a great exercise, and I encourage you to come up with strategies for yourself. If you have an item I missed, please leave a comment. Together, we can master the satisfaction equation!

Until next week,

Leave a note

  1. Sarah Mayer Gash says:

    There are SO many amazing things to take away from this well-written, eloquent piece!

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