What are the distinctions between 'happy' and 'satisfied'?

I understand they may be synonyms but I'd like to know more about the differences.

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Lawrence, Jason Bassford, Michael Rybkin, TrevorD Mar 24 at 19:50

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  • 5
    There are many differences. You'll find 'satisfied' in the context of maths equations, for example, and I'm pretty sure linguists have a (relatively) formal context where they use 'happy'. But the question as posed here is too open-ended to really be answered within the SO format. Is there any specific context you're concerned about? And what have you found out from your own research, that's insufficient for your needs? – FumbleFingers Mar 16 at 15:16
  • @FumbleFingers I'm confused. I interested in happy vs. satisfied ... does one happify a math equation? – Randy Zeitman Mar 16 at 19:27
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    There are some people who are never happy. There are some people who are never satisfied. Not usually the same people. – Hot Licks Mar 16 at 21:37
  • What does the dictionary say? And then, what do you still not understand after studying the dictionary? – TrevorD Mar 24 at 19:50

Satisfied usually means that you have fulfilled a need such as hunger, or are pleased with the outcome of some event, whereas happy means that you are in a good mood, pleased with life in general. These aren't hard and fast rules, though. It's perfectly possible to say "I'm happy with the result of the experiment".

  • This is good. So is it fair to say that all happiness is a specific kind of satisfaction? – Randy Zeitman Mar 16 at 19:28
  • You can be happy because your present circumstances are favourable, or simply because you have a positive outlook on life. I was trying to explain the different shades of meaning, not make a philosophical statement :-) – Kate Bunting Mar 17 at 8:55
  • Just asking your opinion about your perspective, nothing philosophical. – Randy Zeitman Mar 17 at 14:48

There is a delineating difference between them. Let's walk through some history.

Part 1: Origin

Originally, the word happy was first used in 14th century. It was used in the sense: "lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;" of events, "turning out well," from hap (n.) "chance, fortune".

Backed by Merriam-Webster

Sense 1

favored by luck or fortune : FORTUNATE

a happy coincidence

And the word satisfy was first use in 15th century, much later., from Middle French satisfier, from Old French satisfaire "pay, repay, make reparation."


transitive sense 1a

to carry out the terms of (something, such as a contract) : DISCHARGE

So, we can see from the etymological prospective, that they started differently and at different times of history.

Part 2 Relation

The first recorded use of the word happy as "greatly pleased and content (or feeling or showing pleasure or contentment by Oxford dictionary)" is from 1520.

Whereas, much later, first recorded use of the word satisfied as "gratify" was in 1816. Gratify means to give in to : INDULGE, SATISFY (or contented; pleased by Oxford dictionary)

Part 3: Little difference and usability

You have to use "happy with" in order to convey the meaning: Satisfied with the quality or standard of.

In this given example: "I'm happy with his performance", means that you are satisfied by [someone's] performance.

I can be happy, but not satisfied. But, on the other hand, if you are satisfied, then you are surely a happy person. So, to convey your feeling of satisfaction, you have to be happy with someone in order to be satisfied.

Read these examples:

1 I am happy for you. There is no element of satisfaction in it. You are just expressing your happiness.

2 I am happy with your results. There is a element of satisfaction in it. Some desire/hope is met.

Beautifully, explained on differencebetween.net

"Happiness" is defined as both a state of mind and an emotion. Man can choose to be happy. It is relevant to note that even people who are poor can be happy despite the fact that not all their needs are met, even the most basic ones.

"Satisfaction," on the other hand, is the state wherein your desires are met. You will find it in the possession and enjoyment of things that you desire. In effect, it, too, is a state of mind wherein you find contentment knowing that your demands and desires are made possible.

To top something off, feeling of happiness after fulfillment of a desire is the feeling of satisfaction.


ubi hatt gave a great background on the two terms but doesn’t really touch on the emotional content.

Happy is a bright emotion, where you are pleased, joyous, effervescent. It indicates an upward movement in your emotions. Satisfied on the other hand is staid at best and generally a receding emotion. Even great satisfaction or greatly satisfied is a dying emotion, whatever peak of satisfaction you have reached is only going to become less in the future.

You would never use satisfied to describe a baby being tickled, but you could use it to describe the baby afterwards as it goes to sleep.

You can be either satisfied or happy with completing a math equation. If it was the first time you were able to solve it you are probably happy, you get it and it works! If it shows that your company has made a profit for the quarter you you could be happy. If a question on an exam was marked as wrong, and you have just shown that it was actually correct, you might merely be satisfied.

Satisfied says you accept the result as sufficient, happy says that the result is pleasing. While they can be used to describe your emotional response to the same circumstances, they are not interchangeable. One last example, you would not describe your emotional response to the love of your life accepting your marriage marriage proposal as being satisfied.

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