McCarthy steered Wolves into a final position of 15th - eight points clear of the bottom three - after being written off in pre-season as certainties for the drop.
But the former Republic of Ireland boss concedes it is "strange" trying to be euphoric about just ensuring a second season of top-flight football.
McCarthy said: "Staying up was a terrific achievement for the players. I have been delighted with the way they have gone about our business.
"Against the odds, we stayed up. We finished in 15th place in the end but it was never comfortable.
"I just found it strange celebrating - whether we finished in 14th, 15th or 16th spot. You celebrate coming first in the league and winning things - yet it is a better achievement than getting up 12 months ago.
"It is harder, the league is harder, getting points is tougher. It has been a better achievement. It just doesn't feel like it. It is not like winning the title.
"But I have had that nice glow of satisfaction from staying in the league."
McCarthy is a realist and knows Wolves will be playing for similar goals next season.
He said: "We will be playing for basically one of nine spots next season and I might even cut that to seven.
"We are never going to touch the top eight so let's clear that up. We don't want to be in the bottom three so I will take any of the other nine positions.
"If we finish below where we finished this season and don't go down, it will be an achievement and another step towards building the club."