What is satisfaction? Satisfaction is a memory store of “somatic markers” - the hierarchically ranked strengths of emotions experienced by people about events in their lives. Satisfaction belongs to the category of positive markers. Comparison of markers on a satisfaction scale, beneath conscious levels, enables the brain to make swift decisions about the uncertain choices it faces. This process forms a small part of the numerous complex control mechanisms, which manage the advance, withdraw, or consume choices made by animals. Such action choices enabled them to forage, reproduce, protect offspring, maintain cooperative alliances, and avoid physical dangers.
Nature evolved complex techniques to enable animals to make survival decisions. As Comsides and Tooby wrote, "When a tiger bounds towards you, what should your response be? Should you file your toenails? Do a cartwheel? Sing a song? Is this the moment to run an uncountable number of randomly generated response possibilities through the decision rule?" Levels of satisfaction provide one component of that intuitive microsecond decision making system.
What Is Satisfaction –
Complex Control Systems
Early motor controls responded to touch stimuli to intelligently contract and expand the body and tentacles to move about and swallow or expel food particles for the primitive hydra. Later, odor interpretations (the earliest nose brain) from the olfactory system increased the ability of reptiles to detect predators and to consume or avoid food. The amygdala increased discrimination by becoming sensitive to the potential for pain or conflict.
The insular cortex added the mirror neuron ability to sense the emotions of others in the herd to add a complex range of control emotions to manage social relationships. These included “love and hate, gratitude and resentment, self-confidence and embarrassment, trust and distrust, empathy and contempt, approval and disdain, pride and humiliation." These emotions generate changes in the body, called somatic or body states, including variations in facial expressions, postures, hormones, heart rates, and muscle contractions. The nervous system records these parameters in the context of trillions of situations.
According to Comsides and Tooby, goals or other kinds of motivational and reward systems operated by hierarchically ranking, or calibrating the related patterns of emotions. This view is supported by the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (SMH), proposed by Antonio Damasio. At the bottom level of emotional responses to situations, Steven Shabel reports the disappointment emotion, signaled by the simultaneous release of two neurotransmitters, glutamate and GABA, in a region of the brain called the habenula. When more glutamate is released relative to GABA, the more intense are the disappointment signals, which spread in the system. Satisfaction relates to positive emotional signals.
What Is Satisfaction – Calibrated Controls
Positive emotions lead to greater satisfaction and negative emotions lead to dissatisfaction. Nature stores the strength of the emotion as a memory, which is unconsciously recalled when making decisions. Those, who practice mindfulness meditation are conscious that at the end of a meal, a holiday, or a movie, a distinct thought arises that the experience was nice, great, or fantastic. Such markers differentiate between subtle choices in the fields of politics, family life, recreational and career choices.
According to Damasio, a region of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) recognizes the emotional context of experienced events to send somatic markers, simulated body signals, which “bias the thoughts and decisions of individuals.” Just as the amygdala recorded the context of pain or conflict incidents, SMH suggests that “somatic markers” may provide “variable values” to measure the benefits of complex and uncertain choices.
The VMPFC evaluates past emotional experiences to trigger secondary inducers, (the as if body loop), which modify more complex behavior. Damage to the VMPFC is known to cause an inability to learn from socially relevant emotional experiences. Even such somatic markers as skin conductance responses are reduced after they receive a reward or punishment. The SMH view is supported by results from the Iowa Gambling Task experiments, which again study the effect of negative emotions on the selection process.
What Is Satisfaction – Iowa Gambling Task Experiments
The Iowa Gambling Task experiments compared the performance of healthy people with that of patients with damage to the VMPFC. These tests evaluated the ability of people to judge prospective rewards and punishments, while choosing cards from four prearranged decks.
In the task, participants are rewarded for selecting cards from high profit/high penalty decks, or low profit/low penalty decks. While rewards are smaller for the small reward/penalty decks, the penalties are also smaller. The most profitable strategy is to limit choices to the small reward/penalty decks. Over time, (usually within the first 40 trials), healthy participants learn to instinctively adopt the beneficial low reward/penalty deck strategy.
But, participants with lesions in VMPFC, continue to choose from the high reward/penalty deck, even though they face steady losses. At the same time, the comprehension of language, attention, and working memory of such patients were generally intact and they could readily solve logical problems. SMH suggests that this region is pivotal to emotional learning - in integrating the emotional memory of individual gains and losses over time into a rational behavior strategy. Levels of satisfaction demarcate the strengths of positive emotions.
What Is Satisfaction – Measurements Of Satisfaction
The extensive use of customer satisfaction surveys in business and government indicate the universal reliability of continuously graded levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction stored permanently as emotional memories. Significant choices of the general population include the selection of careers, products for use, foods for consumption and even for selection of elected representatives.
Since such choices have vast economic value, psychologists and businesses have endeavored to measure satisfaction levels. It is a major industry and such measurements are clear pointers to purchase, political and social decisions. The surveys predict the behaviors of millions of people. Such surveys have developed questions, which measure satisfaction with a reasonable level of accuracy. They grade the levels of satisfaction concerning the goods and services people receive.
The highest level of satisfaction is indicated by the willingness of people to risk their own reputation by recommending the product or service. Repeat purchases also indicate higher levels of satisfaction. Surveys usually measure the perceived levels of quality, service and value on a scale of 1 to 10. Above 9, the customer is favorably inclined and is unlikely to shop around. 6 to 8 may indicate openness to alternatives and scores below 5 indicate “active detractors.”
What Is Satisfaction – Manipulating Satisfaction Levels
Since levels of satisfaction are dependent on expectations, the providers of goods and services try to manage expectation. Politicians exaggerate the problems faced by them to lower the expectations of their constituents. Automobile manufacturers improve fits and finishes to add satisfaction levels through “customer delight.” Hotels focus on interior designs with the same objective. Authors of novels add intimate details of the lives and surroundings of their characters to increase the involvement of their readers and leave behind a satisfied feeling. Even swift and effective responses to complaints increase levels of satisfaction.
Instead of satisfaction, pessimists expect to be dissatisfied. Murphy's Law “If anything can go wrong, it will” is the refrain of the pessimists. They focus on the things that can go wrong. A pessimist can change his levels of satisfaction by changing his perspective. Billions of things do not go wrong in life. Myriad neurons in his nervous system, the complex circuits of his monitor and computer, the worldwide circuits of the internet, power stations and distribution systems work with incredible precision for him to watch a video. So, regardless of whether many, or a few things do go wrong, the world carries on. A pessimist's level of satisfaction with life will increase, when he identifies all the things that keep going right in his life. Changing the perspectives of his inner wisdom can lead to increased satisfaction levels and optimism.
What Is Satisfaction – The Demands Of Justice
Evolution developed specific patterns of behavior to enable animals to live together in herds. Unsocial behavior caused pain to the victims, which was emotionally shared by members of the herd. Harmful actions invite retribution, discouraging unsocial behavior. Invariably there is a time lag between a negative action and the infliction of punishment. Unjust actions generate pain for the victim and, through empathy, for the whole herd. This pain persists in the minds of the herd and subsides only when punishments of equal value are delivered to the offender.
A sense of satisfaction follows when the pain of injustice is removed. In religions, an act of repentance grants relief to the pain of guilt felt by a “sinner” resulting in a sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction is also felt by a victim, when a compensation has been given for any pain or inconvenience caused. This sense of satisfaction is more a sense of relief from pain rather than joy in the infliction of punishment. Joy in the infliction of punishment is not the general emotion of the group, but that of its less balanced members. In all cases, the level of satisfaction acts as a measure, which decides the future courses of action of the idnividual.
What Is Satisfaction – Experiencing Gratitude
The level of satisfaction with life is a neural record, which influences an individual's attitude to life. It decides his sense of gratitude and well being. Gratitude flows from the unconscious judgment that life is good. Science discovered that, when you experience the emotion, you will have a sense of well-being. Your health will be better and you will have a more cheerful attitude to life. People, who experience gratitude, sleep better and have more positive thoughts. They face problems well and are more in control of their lives. They cope better with transitions in life. Experiencing gratitude is a true indication of coping well with life.
Gratitude arrives as a person's level of satisfaction increases from despair to a sense of awe at the wonder of life. The devout feel grateful that they are part of a grand design and are showered with blessings, in spite of being unworthy sinners. But, the skeptics are not so fortunate. They feel despair, when they fail to comprehend an incessant need for misfortunes to meet a grand eternal purpose.
But, the despair of the skeptic can change when he lowers his levels of expectations. He has not done anything to deserve to be born. Life has given him the opportunity to live calmly and joyfully. He does not owe anyone a debt for this opportunity. Gratitude is naturally triggered, when you receive an undeserved benefit. A change in expectations can lead to a sense of gratitude by perceiving high levels of achieved satisfaction.
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
When I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. A star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. And yet, the 20 minutes hang heavily on me. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.
Life has already blessed me
with over twenty million waking minutes. I have an infinity of time
on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
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