Would you rather be happy or content? Ok – so it’s no contest. In western culture, contentment feels like settling for second best. Why be content when you could be so much happier, blissful, in ecstasy even! Happiness is something you chase, contentment something you settle for, right?
But delve a little deeper, consider an eastern approach (or at least a traditional one), and maybe being content is the best way to be, after all.
If you look in the Thesaurus (as I’m wont to do) then you discover the following list of synonyms:
So contentment is in fact the closest match for happiness, but happiness is less of a match for contentment than the peace of serenity or the gladness of satisfaction. Hmm..confusing!
It seems happiness has a pleasurable quality that is less evident in contentment, apparently, while contentment brings a serenity that is not noted (even if it is evident) in happiness. Happiness can extend to bliss, and even soar to the heights of ecstasy, while contentment promises ease but doesn’t include the sheer glee of joy, supposedly. You can’t have it all!
I take umbrage with old Roget though, because including ‘gratification’ and ‘ease’ as synonymic words for contentment seem to saddle it with an indulgent, lazy quality that I don’t think is deserved (as though contentment is a fat cat that is too lazy to get off its mat). Perhaps that’s just my perception, because to be gratified can also mean being fulfilled, while being at ease might just mean being effortlessly comfortable (without always chasing happiness, and hence your tail).
Anyway, on the face of it, serenity aside, the happiness list looks much more appealing (it gives you more synonyms for a start). What strikes me is that happiness seems to be linked to what happens to you externally (you experience delight, exhilaration etc), while contentment seems to spring internally from simply making a decision to sit back and BE serene, BE satisfied.
As for the antonyms, sadness seems to be something that washes over you, often in response to external stimuli, to destroy your happiness, with discontentment being the opposite of contentment, based on a conscious decision not to be contented (and who would really want to decide that!).
In other words, we seek happiness in experiences (and in an absence of sadness) but can choose contentment in whatever life brings (that isn’t totally true as gladness and cheerfulness are states of emotion that we can choose to bring to any given situation and BE happy and BE content). But you get the drift. Enough with the word-play!
So this is my theory (entirely unoriginal). In order to be truly happy you must be content.
Contentment is the still pond inside you that ripples with happiness (and sometimes sadness), that is washed over by waves of ecstasy (hopefully often), from which joy springs, like a geyser, unbidden.
Three simple tips for a contented life:
1) Choose contentment – it has to be a conscious choice, especially in those moments and those times when things aren’t going so well
2) Practice gratitude – when things are going well, be grateful, and then you will have things to appreciate even when things aren’t going so well!
3) Be happy – when things are going well, just BE happy, without seeking even more happiness. Contentment will be there in the background and you might just experience real joy.
Love to know how these tips go.
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