The Opposite of Dissatisfaction

Today I was introduced to Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theorywhich attempts to help managers improve morale and productivity by clarifying what makes employees dissatisfied, what makes them satisfied, and how to affect both.  Most notably, Herzberg suggests that job dissatisfaction and job satisfaction are distinct, and act independently of each other.  In other words, the opposite of dissatisfaction is just a lack of dissatisfaction, and the opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction, but a lack of satisfaction.

For example: When unhappy workers were asked about what made them unhappy, they answered with specifics like salary and company policies.  However when asking satisfied employees what made them satisfied, they didn’t answer “I’m fulfilled by our great corporate policies”, or even “I love my salary” – the answers funneled into a different set, things like recognition, growth, and the work itself.

This is interesting in the context of work, and I’m already trying to think how I can use it to my team’s advantage there.  But, as is always the case, I think it’s much more interesting in the broader context of life, happiness, motivation.

It’s easy to assume that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are just opposite ends of the same line.  But I dislike this idea, and I’ve always disliked this idea, I just haven’t been quite able to put my finger on why.  Here’s why:

Happiness is not simply the absence of problems.  A life without any problems is not inherently happy, or satisfactory, or fulfilled, it’s just problem free.  The set of actions, behaviors, achievements, possessions, relationships, or issues that bring a person fulfillment and happiness are not necessarily the same ones that cause unhappiness when they’re bad, or missing.

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