This morning, I used a snow blower to clear my driveway instead of a shovel. Afterwards, I commented that using a snow blower isn’t nearly as satisfying as using a shovel. It’s a true statement, but, for some reason, struck me as a little odd after I’d said it. A snow blower and a shovel get the same results. Why would one be more satisfying than the other?

Before getting into it, I should point out that I’m talking about a specific sense of the word satisfy. It’s about a feeling of satisfaction. It’s similar to feeling pride or contentment. It’s not about satisfying a condition. If you’re very hungry, any food will satisfy your hunger. But satisfying your hunger does not make it a satisfying meal in the sense I am talking about.

What are the differences between a shovel and a snow blower? The shovel is more primitive technology than the snow blower. It’s more difficult to use. It takes longer. Saying it this way, it seems the snow blower is superior in almost every way. But it doesn’t leave you with a sense of satisfaction.

Could that be the answer? Is inefficiency more satisfying than efficiency? I don’t think so. Getting lost or getting stuck in traffic are inefficient, but I don’t think anyone claims they are satisfying experiences. And it can be very satisfying to find a better way to do something. In some sense, practicing a musical instrument is more satisying as you learn to be more efficient on the instrument.

Could it be a technology thing? Is it more satisfying to use less technology? Again, I don’t think so. In my experience, finishing a video game is satisfying. So is changing a tire. I’ve never done it, but I would imagine that inventing a new technology is immensely satisfying.

Perhaps it comes down to difficulty. More difficult things might bring more satisfaction than less difficult things. This seems closer, but still not quite right. It is true that work can be satisying. It is also true that if something is too easy, it tends not to be satisfying. But I don’t think it is the difficulty itself that translates into satisfaction. There are plenty of difficult things that provide no satisfaction whatsoever.

I think satisfaction is really our internal reward for accomplishing something. It doesn’t matter if other people know what we did, it’s enough to be able to say to yourself, “I did that.” It doesn’t really matter how efficient you were or what kind of technology you used. But the effort put in does matter. I think the reason I find shoveling more satisfying than snow blowing is because in one case I’m doing the work and in the other case a machine is doing the work. After I’ve shoveled my driveway, I can say, “I just shoveled my driveway.” After I snow blow, I’m more likely to say, “My driveway is clean.”

This seems to be true for other ways we can be satisfied. A home cooked meal is more satisfying than something out of a can. Taking care of your kid is more satisfying than dropping them at daycare. I’m sure you can think of your own examples.

I should add that I don’t think I made the wrong decision by snow blowing rather than shoveling. It’s true I lost out on some satisfaction, but I had stuff to do today and it was the kind of snow that causes serious injuries. Satisfaction can’t always be the goal. But it’s nice if you can get it.

While we’re on the subject, here are a couple of songs to listen to.

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