The feeling when something meets or exceeds your expectation.

You feel satisfaction when you expected to get something, and then got it. For example, when you see that your hotel room indeed has the great view that the website advertised, when your roommate held his promise to do the groceries, or when your star student has handed in another excellent paper.

The word ‘expectation’ in the definition seems simple enough, but it actually means three things at once. First, it means that you think something is likely to happen. For example, you expect your hotel room to have a nice view, because it explicitly mentioned this in the booking description. Secondly, you want the thing to happen. You greatly enjoy a good view when you are on vacation, so this is important to you. Thirdly, you think that it should happen. You booked the room well in advance and you paid extra for a room with a view. Therefore, you feel you are entitled to getting the nice view.

In other examples of satisfaction, the sense of entitlement can come from different directions. For example, you can also feel something should happen because you worked for it, because it was promised to you, or simply because you feel you have a right to it. The words ‘right’ and ‘entitlement’ can sound quite presumptuous, but people feel naturally entitled to many things in daily life. For instance, you feel entitled to get paid for your work, to receive love from your partner, or to be treated with respect by strangers.

In addition to satisfaction about things that happen or that other people did, you can also be satisfied with yourself and your own actions. For example, when you have already finished all your tasks an hour before the end of your workday.

The three necessary ingredients indicate the boundaries of satisfaction: when fewer than three are present, you will likely experience another emotion. For instance, when you win a prize in the lottery, you will probably not feel satisfaction (but something like positive surprise or euphoria), because you did not think it was very likely to happen. Or when something happens that you thought was likely to happen, but don’t have a specific interest in it, you may experience surprise – or no emotion at all. For example, when your co-worker comes in at 9:30 instead of her usual 9:00.

Satisfaction can be about meeting expectations, but also about exceeding them. In the latter case, the degree of exceeding is typically not very high, because if it were, other emotions would come to the fore. If you get something that greatly exceeds your expectations, you are more likely to feel grateful or euphoric. If someone does something that far exceeds your expectations, you may feel admiration. And if you yourself do something that significantly exceeds your expectations, you will likely feel pride. Because of this, satisfaction is typically limited in intensity.

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Typical expressions

“I’m very pleased with this.”

Sources and further reading