On Satisfaction

A curious quality of being human is that we are never satisfied. The food is never satiating, the sex never good enough, nor the reward for things accomplished never great enough. In fact, for instance, when we consume large quantities of food, or decadent foods in search of satisfaction, all it leads to is sickness. The same goes for other earthly pleasures.

Now, before anyone thinks I advocate for asceticism and the rejection of all pleasures, allow me to mention what Aristotle says of music, because his argument for the study of music will support my argument for pleasure. He tells us, somewhere in the Politics when speaking of musical education, that all things pursued for their own sake must be good things. Music, for instance, is pursued purely for its own sake: it has no practical value and does not lead to anything else; and advertising jingles, which attempt to harness the ethereal power of music for profits, to practicalize it, so to speak, is quickly understood to be soulless claptrap.

Now as regards satisfaction and pleasure, pleasure is pursued for its own sake, or at most, it occurs accidentally in the bare minimum satisfaction of the needs. Therefore, pleasure is, in itself, a good thing; do not disdain pleasure mistaking it for sin, for it is not sin in itself. Where pleasure becomes sinful is when the pursuit of pleasure, or rather the satisfaction thought to come through pleasure, is pursued sinfully, such as through adultery, or through eating gluttonously. To enjoy sex with one’s spouse, or to enjoy a good meal are not sins; these are good things to be cherished.

So clearly, pursuing pleasure is not necessarilly a bad thing, but when we think that we may be able to once and for all satisfy our appetites, we quickly discover that this is not possible. There is no meal so good that we feel completely satisfied and that quells our appetite. Our appetite will return, and worse, it will demand even more than before. Earning $100,000 a year is not enough, nor is earning $10,000,000 a year. Proof of this may be found in our would-be global tyrants, like the WEF stooges for whom the money simply is not enough: they must control and own everything. Even then, they would not be satisfied. I do wonder what they would desire after that.

To become completely satisfied in this life is about as possible as filling up a car with gasoline once and for all. Nobody expects to buy a new car, put gas in it, and drive till it rusts away; neither should we, when temperately seeking pleasure, expect that it will leave us permanently satisfied. When a temptation presents itself, for example, a second piece of chocolate cake for dessert, it helps to remember that it will not leave us satisfied and, because that second piece is simply too much, it will in fact engorge and sicken us rather than give us pleasure. How many pleasures there are that, when pursued, leave us worse off than if we had never entertained them! Stop at one piece of chocolate cake, enjoy it for what it is and expect nothing more, and do not think that more of it will lead to complete satisfaction. It never does.

Consider the world of pornography. If it were true that more was always better, we should expect that porn stars would be the most sexually gratified people on earth; I bet the contrary: the increased intensity and debauchery of their acts instead makes them less sensitive to the normal sexual pleasures; to them, I wager that the whole industry makes them feel less than human and never even slightly contented. The acts must become ever more degenerate in a vain pursuit of satisfaction that never arrives. They become degenerate and do not get even the slightest pleasure or satisfaction out of their degeneracy. This applies to the consumers of pornography as well; after all, they are the ones who demand such aberrations, because the normal pleasures are no longer good enough.

Consider the ultra-wealthy for a moment, that consume the most pleasures and resources in the world. Those of us that do not sufficiently think through their condition often think that they are the happiest people in the world, getting real satisfaction from what life has to offer. In fact, a friend of mine once argued that because we are not ultra-wealthy like the Elon Musks of the world, we will never really know how satisfied they really are. In an absolute sense, that is correct; realistically however, I sincerely doubt it, because many of the ultra-wealthy are some of the most grasping people on earth. Trump and Musk, for instance, thrive on attention; their money is quite secondary to their desire for attention. They grasp at it every chance they get in the media. Bill Gates is not satisfied with his billions: he buys up farm land just so others cannot have it, and is obsessed with vaccines and he will never be satisfied unless everyone is constantly taking questionable shots. Neither is he satisfied. It is a fool’s errand to seriously think that more access to resources will certainly lead to more satisfaction with life.

So far, we have spoken mostly about overconsumption in pursuit of satisfaction because this is what we generally associate with pleasure-seeking and satisfaction-seeking, but one can underconsume as well and end up similarly miserable. Always denying our favorite foods for instance, especially if we are attempting fat loss, eventually turns that desire into a craving far worse than temperate consumption. This is not to justify all foods nor all pleasurable things in moderation (the saying, “All things in moderation” is a fallacy), because some things are purely bad: no amount of seed oils have a place in any diet, nor is any amount of pornography part of a healthy sex life. Life is not meant to be suffered through entirely; though there will be some suffering for everyone, that does not mean we should not enjoy what good things life does have to offer. Ascetics reject even the small goods that life offers.

It has been years since I read anything of Nietzche (thank goodness), but I do recall a two-word phrase of his: “Wretched contentment!” Now, contentment and satisfaction are not the same things: you can be content, but you cannot be satisfied. Nietzche would have us discontent and forever climbing a ladder with infinite rungs in pursuit of becoming higher men that are beyond good and evil; as if that will somehow lead to satisfaction. Going further and further up that ladder simply makes our fall from it that much more painful. Even if you did not fall off of that ladder, it makes no difference: you will still never be satisfied no matter how high you go. At least he who falls has a chance to see the ladder for what it is: an endless, vain pursuit. The sooner one finds contentment, the better.

Then what difference is there between satisfaction and contentment? Contentment is the rational understanding that things are what they are and nothing more: the cake is good, but it does not satisfy; the sex is good, but it does not satisfy; the job is well done, but it could be better. Contentment enjoys things the way they are and does not expect them to fill that bottomless desire we all have. Contentment says, “The one piece of cake was good, and that’s good enough for me. More of it won’t truly satisfy, and I’ll just be made sick.” “I love my spouse, and that’s good enough. Loving another person will not lead to further satisfaction, in fact, it will be bad for everyone involved.” The grass is not always greener.

For example, let us consider horsepower in a everyday street car. For some gearheads, sometimes myself included, whatever power the motor makes is just not enough. Is 200HP enough in the car? Of course not, make it make 400HP. Is 400HP enough? Nope, add boost and nearly double the HP. I am not suggesting that we should give up any enthusiasm for huge horsepower, but I am saying, especially for most people’s driving, less than 100HP would be more than enough in a typical street car. Driving around town no faster than 35MPH in an old Mercedes 240D is no worse than driving around town at the same speed in a race-prepped supercar. One could be content with the 240D until he tried to take it to 70MPH! Unless you are doing some serious towing, huge horsepower (technically torque, but the two usually go together) never gets used on the street.

Now contentment may sound like “settling for less.” Absolutely speaking, it is, but it is not the same in spirit. When a man “settles for less” in his spouse, for instance, we mean he married the first woman that seemed agreeable enough to him; maybe the two do not agree on the most important things on which they really should, like churchgoing or desire for children. If these two did not agree on these important issues, we would say they “settled for less.” If, however, they disagree on smaller issues but agree on the bigger issues we would not say they “settled for less,” we would say they were content with their small imperfections. To expect to be completely satisfied with one’s spouse is impossible, but to be content with him or her is not the same as “settling for less.”

In short, we are always left wanting; no matter how good things are, the desire is never completely fulfilled. To overconsume in hopes of satisfying that desire is hopeless and has lead to most of this world’s sins; to reject all pleasure and good things, to live the life of an ascetic, is hardly better: after all, God created those good things, and who is man to turn them down? There must be a middle ground, because the extremes lead to nothing good.

Now it has been said before that man would not have desires that could not be fulfilled. Then why do we have these insatiable desires if our world cannot satisfy them? These insatiable desires can in fact be satisfied, but not by anything in the world.

What could this “groaning” be that the the Apostle writes of besides a longing for some kind of satisfaction? Where the worldly things leave us still wanting, the holy things will leave us satisfied.

The Saint speaks truly, but none of us would claim to repose in God, not even Saint Augustine. Nevertheless, it is that repose in God that will end all our wanting; for if we were in Him, what else would there be to want?

Looking for satisfaction in this world is a hopeless case, do not even bother about it, instead, be content with what good it does have. We will be restless all the days of our lives, but there is hope that we will find repose in God; in Him, none will be left wanting.

Additionally, I may mention that Saint Augustine’s restlessness for God is in fact a good thing. To quote the Apostle again, "… we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:6 RSV, emphasis mine). The Saint’s restlessness keeps us from feeling at home or satisfied in the body. That restlessness makes us desire for something much greater than anything in the world; therefore, it is a good thing. That restlessness however, was perverted to the insatiable desires of earthly life that never satisfy, what we often call pleasure-seeking, and it is something which we all suffer. The Christian life seeks to redirect that restlessness to God, because before man chose sin over God, God was completely sufficient for man; man was not restless nor unsatisfied at all, for he had God Who is all-sufficient.