Welcome back to the second installment of the Blog 3.0 If two installments are indicative of a trend, then I’m truly back).
I’ve had the idea for this installment since Easter and I knew it would have to be one of the first blogs to hit the Net once I got back into the saddle and at the keyboard. The idea came from a conversation I had with our son Rich and, we hope, his future finance, Erin, when the kids came from the other side of the state to spend the weekend with the Old Folks.
Rich has taken after the Old Man and has become a seeker of answers regarding life, morality, and his place in the Grand Scheme of Things. This often leads to some deep, serious and sometimes heated discussions.
One morning as we were having our first cup of coffee of the morning, he asked me, “Are you happy?” Without much though I replied, “Yes, I’m very happy.” Which he immediately followed with, “How do you know you’re happy and what does it feel like?” After a long Socratic dialogue, we both agreed that I was indeed happy in that moment, because I had people I love close to me for the moment but, we also agreed that in addition to being happy, I am also very content. I think we both left that discussion convinced and also surprised that happiness and contentment are two completely different things. Allow me to explain.
Happiness, the way most people define and understand it, is an outcome based state or emotion and very transitory. By that I mean when we are happy it is usually because we have received, achieved or experienced something pleasant or satisfying. Think of it in terms of cause and effect; something happens in the external environment which we find pleasing and we then experience the feeling of happiness….for a while…usually very briefly. Also, what usually happens is that when we find ourselves in a state of happiness, we have also raised the bar for the future regarding what will engender these pleasant feelings in the future (got the t-shirt; what’s next?). Our efforts are then directed toward chasing or making things happen in our environment that will allow us to feel those pleasant feelings again. The Founding Fathers of the US were aware of this when they enshrined our right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ into the Declaration of Independence. Notice it’s the ‘pursuit’ of happiness not the actual ‘possession’ that is acknowledged as a fundamental right.
Contentment on the other hand is not state dependent and comes from and resides deep within us. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines contentment as “pleased and satisfied: not needing more.” I am very certain you just thought, “Baloney, you always need more to improve your life and circumstances. You can never rest on your laurels.” I would like to point out that you just confused happiness with contentment.
Being contentment does not meant that you give up and sit on the bleachers. It does not mean that you do not constantly strive for self-improvement nor does it mean that you stop having goals. However, what it does exclude is the constant need or wanting. What it does exclude is making your life dependent on some future achievement, thing, or circumstance.
Contentment means you intentionally choose to be mindful of and appreciate how you and your life are right now this minute. It means being consciously aware of the beauty, joy, love, and even the pain or sorrow of the now without comment, striving or resistance. You accept that you, your life and circumstance are exactly the way they are and based on your previous choices and actions, cannot possibly be any other way. Truly appreciating and becoming at peace with who you are and ‘where’ you are is the first and most important step in growing and moving forward into whatever life has in store for you with eagerness and acceptance. See the difference?
Let’s face it, contentment is not anywhere near as sexy or splashy as happiness, but it does yield a more profound and permanent sense of ease and peace of mind. It allows us to savor life fully, moment to moment, without experiencing the mental and emotional suffering of longing for something else.
So, my question is, ‘Are you still on the hamster-wheel chasing happiness, or are you intentionally accepting this incredible miracle of existence without judgement or longing. It’s a choice and as always…
The Choice is Always Yours!