Chickens or eggs. Which came first?
Happiness or contentment. Which came first?
Nope. Let’s make that which one comes first?
Being content or being happy is a state of mind that most of us would like to enjoy for an extensive period of time. When we’re in that place, it’s as though all other things in life fall into place.
For many it’s not an easy plateau to climb to and take a long rest. Part of the reason is that it’s hard to define and separate the two. If you look up the definition in the dictionary, many tend to define and use them interchangeably but clearly they are different.
Ms. Gerri Luce, LCSW shares her thoughts on this in a 2013 Psychology Today article. She shares, “I would call myself content, but not happy. I’m content because I’m in a very different place than I was twenty, ten and even five years ago. I have two jobs (one as a social worker and one as a writer) and I am passionate about both of them. I have a small, but close circle of family and friends that care for me deeply, and I for them. I have both emotional and physical health.[adToAppearHere]
The one ingredient that is missing from my life, the one thing that I believe would convert contentment to happiness is an emotionally and physically intimate committed relationship with a man. That is something which I have not yet experienced so I say that I believe this experience would tip my contentment towards happiness though I do not know for sure.”
I sense I understand the perspective Ms. Luce is taking, I agree with her completely, but I’ll tweak it a little.
Ms. Luce seems to be happy because she has most of the ingredients in her life mixing bowl that would make most people, anywhere in the world happy; except for in her case a committed relationship with a man.
My position is a little different.
My life experience has taught me that contentment is the rice that comes first and happiness is the gravy that you can continually heap upon it.
Thus, in the example above, if Ms. Luce had no family or friends, especially after having them, I suspect she would be extremely unhappy.
Having said that, there are thousands or perhaps millions of people who have lost family to crime, car accidents, war displacement or conflict and in a sense they have to start over. Ms. Luce’s circumstances present her with more happiness building blocks. In the case of the people who are in a situation where family in particular is not an option, they have to learn to be content with their situation.
That then becomes the foundation to their happiness.
When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.’……Dalai Lama
They now can begin to take steps to add gravy to the rice.
They meet someone and fall in love. They get seriously involved, its working and they get married. Soon they have a child. Like Ms. Luce, they now have a family where they didn’t before. A line of reasoning could be that they have traveled from contentment to happiness.
Let’s heap upon a little more gravy.
The new husband had a good job but he didn’t like it. He takes steps to get a job that he not only likes but also pays more money. I sense the happiness meter would start to rise.
Are you still hungry? Sure you are. Would you like a second helping of gravy? My pleasure.
The wife in this situation meets another young mother at the park. To her dismay and joy they are from the same city where they both grew up and even know some of the same prominent people from a distance. They strike up a real friendship and because of their cultural roots have a lot in common and become extremely close. Since the wife is happier and often in a great mood; her husband is happier as well.
We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory…..Bernard Williams
This gravy heaping could go on and I sense you get the point.
Whatever situation you are in, for the moment at least, it’s probably wise to try and be content with it and take steps to hopefully reach the happiness ledge on the life mountain that you are climbing.
True life examples tend to be more powerful than hypothetical ones.
Sharing a segment from my own past, there was a time when I had more family and friends but I found out over time that both were not real. I had a job I absolutely hated but stayed in for the usual important scraps of benefits and steady pay so that I could fulfill my religious and family obligations.
Mostly I was absolutely miserable but ironically didn’t know it. I had ways of medicating myself through sports recreation and immersing myself in movies. That behavior helped me convince myself that my life was good. It wasn’t. My children were straight A students and went on to graduate from stellar universities, one with a Master’s degree from Oxford in England.
It was an extremely stressful existence.
Today, since I write for FCI and have connections with Female Competition International, I absolutely love what I do and although I have less family and far less friends, I’m much happier than I was before.
I have a much simpler life and far clearer purpose.
The moral of the story is twofold.
One is that most of us can learn to be content even in lousy situations if we make our mind up to be.
Once again contentment is the cement foundation.
Then you start building from there.
Though the dictionary doesn’t always agree, contentment and happiness are very different.
It may be possible the predicament that you are in may be a permanent one. If you have lost your sight, a leg, a loved one in death or something else extremely important, those losses are permanent and final.
The question becomes how can you find contentment while you improve or enhance your circumstances?
The second is if you pursue what you love in life, it’s the best and healthiest medication of all and most of the other stepping stones to happiness, if you develop a plan over the course of time, will begin to fall in place.
No matter what your situation is, while you might formulate a plan to achieve greater happiness, you have to learn to be content in your present first.
It’s the basic foundation that compliments but is different from happiness.
We can add the layers of happiness later.
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Sources: brainyquote.com, Wikipedia, fciwomenswrestling.com, fciwomenswrestling2.com, FCI Elite Competitor, photos thank you Wikimedia Commons.