A Self Improvement Idea
Following is a self improvement idea based not on any studies, but rather on my own logic. It has to do with the differences between happiness and contentment. That said...
I knew this girl once (nothing like a cliché start to get the ball rolling, huh?) and when we were together, my emotions were mostly always an extreme of whatever the particular feeling in question happened to be at the time.
What was ‘good’ was not good, it was ‘utterly stupendously wonderful’. What was ‘funny’ was ‘stomach-achingly, eyes-crying-with-absolute-glee hilarious’. What was a ‘delight to the senses’ was ‘so-overwhelmingly-sensual-that-not-even-my-wildest-dreams-could-compete-with-it’ (which is coming from someone who has had some pretty wild dreams). And what was ‘bad’ was ‘feels-as-if-the-entire-world-is-ending and my-heart-is-being-pulled-through-my-throat terrible’.
So apart from the psychologically terrible times I occasionally had with her, it was by far the most memorable period of my life in every positive sense. I had never been happier, in layman’s terms, but then it came to an end. Thank goodness. That said, it came to an end due to FORESEEN circumstances, which didn’t make it any less distressing at the time perhaps, but - in retrospect - I’m glad that that part of my life did come to a close because I was becoming overwhelmingly emotionally spent from it all.
So time passed, my feelings again simmered down to their more neutral state, and eventually I came to realize even though I wasn’t as HAPPY as I had been while with her, I was CONTENT without her. I felt as though I’d found my way home to that very cozy little village in the mind where I used to abide in my pre-her days. And this line of thought gave rise to an incredibly defining epiphany in my life; one which - until now - I’ve never attempted to put into words:
Being once again relatively balanced (or at least feeling as though I were) it was clear that plain old CONTENTMENT was far more important than supersonic HAPPINESS.
But if ever I tried telling people how I viewed these terms to be not precisely the same - ‘happy’ as opposed to ‘content’ - I battled because there’s so subtle a difference in meaning that it can almost be lost if not stated in a very simple and clear manner. On that note, I’m now going to jump off the deep-end and hope I don’t make too much of a mess of what I PERSONALLY regard to be that subtle difference concerning these two words. My definition will be based on a collected amalgamation of insight I’ve compiled from various different websites, blogs, forums and finally my own dear mind; and right near the end of this article I will sum up my concluding thoughts on the matter just in case it all becomes so complicated that the forest becomes lost in the trees (or something like that).
Some Differences Between Happiness And Contentment
According to a large volume of people, following is that which is believed to be the prime differences between contentment and happiness, whereby MOST quite obviously view ‘being content’ in a positive light, and ‘being happy’ in a negative light. I will later discuss why I don’t wholeheartedly agree with this quite common thought though.
* generally akin to one being amused, delighted, ecstatic, enraptured, euphoric, exultant, gleeful, jubilant, triumphant, etc.
* when you smile a great deal, both inside and out.
* fleeting - meaning it comes and goes at no specific time and never entirely through one's own control.
* a scattering of moments that very quickly expire because happiness is also ALWAYS temporary, leading many to therefore class happiness as being 'not real'.
* often related to the material world, specifically in regards to money; thus happiness is usually 'about something'.
* that which selfish people often strive for - it's the attempts at attaining whatever might bring an individual, and nobody else, a certain sort of pleasure, and as a result can actually detract from any true contentment that same individual might otherwise be able to feel, meaning one can never be wholly satisfied in a deeper sense when constantly seeking mere happiness as their main priority in life.
* what follows in the place of pain.
* having everything you want, but not everything you need.
* recognizing and maintaining an inner peace - holding onto a constant, albeit predictable, satisfaction, in other words.
* knowing that your controlled mood, your confidence, and your comfortableness with all things, will win out over any bad circumstance.
* a freedom from anxiety and want.
* being satisfied with your work and consciously appreciating nature and life in all its splendour.
* often found when giving of oneself, and in making other people happy (or perhaps content), and whilst involved in some manner of productive work, and in continuing one's education, and in exercising both the body and mind in the many ways one can.
* being in the sort of environment that calms and nurtures the mind.
* not exposing yourself to violent and other unhealthy entertainments or realities.
* avoiding negative people and not spending too much time sleeping or being indoors.
* a frame of mind that leads to one's becoming more patient, caring, and generous.
* not wanting more of something to sustain your well being and not hoping for change or improvement, but welcoming it if it does come.
* a state of finding a ‘centeredness’ in oneself, but not being self-centred.
* the ultimate goal to aspire to in life.
* having everything you need, but not everything you want.
In short, I’d PERSONALLY say, and very generally speaking, that being happy is when one focuses on the external, while being content is when one focuses on the internal.
One web author speaks about contentment as being the most important state you can strive to achieve in life, referring to it thus as either ‘perfect happiness’ or ‘bliss’. This bliss transcends ordinary emotions like happiness (at one end of the spectrum) or pain (at the other end of the spectrum). Further to this theory, contentment could be compared to smiling (or serenity) while happiness could be compared to laughing (or agitation). When one laughs, it is usually because of some external stimulus making you laugh, whereas smiling comes from within. And it is that which is within us that we must focus on.
I agree that we must, to an extent, internalise our thinking, but we live in a world that is external to us, so I feel it would be to our detriment to block everything external out, both because ‘external reality’ is obviously the reality we physically have no other choice but to live in and also because that which is outside of us can teach us a great deal and provide us with as much pleasure as anything else that may be negative.
The above-mentioned web author provides an example of being given a mobile phone. This would make one happy, but it's a happiness that lasts only so long as the mobile phone is something new and exciting or until another mobile phone comes onto the market which is ‘better’. The initial excitement in receiving the phone is like a ripple, but ripples don't last. In contrast, contentment is like a tranquil pond which does last, making it a better frame of being to therefore be in.
The author elaborates further in saying that you may, as another example, feel neither happy nor in pain one day (neutral, in other words) but then if you should have some measure of extreme physical pain and be made to live for a relatively long while in such suffering, by the time you are cured of this pain, you will be quite happy as a result, even though you would be technically back to your very same previous neutral state where you didn't feel specifically happy or sad. This is not because you are truly happy, therefore. It is just that, relative to the pain you felt before, you now imagine yourself to be happy. Your ABSENCE OF PAIN is what makes you happy, in conclusion, hence happiness is ‘bad’ because it stems from pain. Always. Interesting thought.
Now according to this web author, if one can grow beyond happiness and pain (beyond the world of physical and mental agitations and pleasures) then one will live in perfect bliss. I admit this stereotypically Eastern approach sounds fantastic and enlightening, but I, in large part, disagree with this idea. To be solely content in this sense is not having a true balance in life because life is about living, not about shutting yourself off from reality. That’s just what I believe though. But I’m not saying you must never filter anything out from your life either. I’ll be more specific about this later on, however.
The web author additionally states that happiness is actually a disorder, for if there’s never a pain in one’s life to begin with, there cannot be a happiness to replace it. Again, I don’t precisely agree with this thinking, but I respect the logic and strong conviction of belief with which the author speaks. That said, even if the author is ABSOLUTELY correct in theory, I still wouldn’t imagine their thinking about ‘how life should therefore be lived as a result’ is correct. For maybe what separates humans from other animal species on this world is that we DON'T naturally feel content, and this might be to our benefit, because it has meant we are never totally satisfied with the world we live in. We are always striving to reach higher, and therefore we are constantly doing more than merely survive. Here’s what I’m getting at...
I sometimes wonder in awe at how animals can mostly loaf around all day, seeming to so hugely enjoy doing ‘nothing’. Maybe they’re not doing ‘nothing’ though; maybe they’ve reached a perfect state of contentment that humans can only reach if we consciously work at it. And maybe we have evolved to be ‘naturally discontent’ not by mistake, but because this has meant we’ve never stopped pushing ourselves to improve and to redesign the world to our own ends (no matter how 'selfish' those ends often might be). Maybe we dominate our planet so entirely because our survival depended on our never being content. Wouldn’t that be interesting... if we evolved into the physically and mentally (if not emotionally) advanced species we are not due to our being smarter than other creatures, but due to our being not as naturally content as the other animals on this world? This is all simply conjecture on my part though, but it does make a certain amount of sense, I think.
In every situation, there's ALWAYS good to be found, just we don't naturally continue to see it over time because MAYBE we’re not designed to. It would possibly go against what evolution has made of us. As a side-note: when couples take holidays away from each other, I can see why this often works. I don't think it's a necessary thing to do, however - or entirely healthy, for that matter - but I can see how the logic of two people separating from each other for a while, then missing each other, then meeting up again and experiencing one another once more in a relatively fresh manner would make for a stronger relationship. For a time, that is. But that’s besides the point (and a matter I’ll deal with in another article). For now, my point is simply that humans hate living a life of monotony because it’s boring, yet humans also fear change. This I know from psychology, but also from experience. And this contradiction of our nature causes inevitable problems.
So how do you live a safely monotonous life without it being monotonous?
You firstly find contentment in your own existence, then seek out situations and items that will bring about happiness. Deal with the wonder of your present moment, then look to the future, in other words.
But how do you find contentment in your own life?
You look around and think about how incredible life itself is and how incredible your own life is. You furthermore remember all the things that made something so special in the first place. That dog who brought you such exorbitant amounts of joy when you first got him is still the same miraculous pet he's always been, even though he's older now and may not appear (to some people) to be as cute or novel as he once was. Think about it. More importantly though... remember it. And train yourself to automatically CONTINUE taking joy from all of the MANY incredible pleasures life provides you with.
I sometimes use meditations to remind myself that I'm content in order to feel content. Sounds crazy, but I think humans are designed to forget they're happy in order to evolve, but I will not be a slave to my genes. You see, from the gene's perspective, it's not about enjoying the moment, it's about surviving to the next day. But humans don’t have to live like this. Even if our genes don’t know it yet, we've already dominated our environment, and now instead of being afraid that our species will succumb to another, we should be afraid that we’ll kill ourselves off due to this constant false need of desperately trying to be more than we are and yearning for more than we currently have.
Striving to be more than we are, and aiming to have more than we do, is good, but when it’s at the expense of losing one’s contentment, or worse, then it’s bad. VERY bad. Because then we’ve lost a balance and so need to reset our thinking in order to reset our desires (and the strengths of our desires) in order to reset how we view the world, and what actions we take in the world as a result.
When a person can ONLY find pleasure through the use of recreational drugs or alcohol (which is one important reason as to why I maintain drugs are so often so popular and then sometimes addictive) then that person’s life needs seriously to be re-evaluated. To a naturally discontent mind, drugs make that mind totally 'content' by bringing about huge quantities of 'now-happiness'.
But back to the point.
What are my own thoughts specifically regarding happiness and contentment?
My Own Thoughts Concerning Happiness Versus Contentment
As many others have pointed out, I agree with most of the differences I originally posted in point-form near the opening of this article about ‘happiness’ and ‘contentment’, but I DON'T agree with the sentiment that in choosing one frame of mind you have to eliminate the other as being bad.
Just because happiness and contentment can be contrasted against each other, it doesn’t mean they’re therefore opposites of each other.
If you’re only content, then you may as well be dead because your life will only ever be lived on one plane... the same monotonous plane of having every day being exactly the same as the day before. But if you’re only living a life where you’re constantly seeking new ways to be happy (and, as a result, are totally miserable when you don’t attain said happiness) then you’ll be limiting yourself to the life of a person who can only ever look forwards, never backwards at the past, and never to your sides... this present time which is ALREADY wonderful in numerous ways.
Being happy is not the opposite of being content anymore than sweet is the opposite of sour, or crying is the opposite of being strong. Therefore you don’t have to choose between a life where you’re only either living in the moment or living to attain a certain future you desire. You’re human. It’s MORE than possible that you can do both.
So while some may correctly surmise that contentment is 'permanent happiness' and happiness is 'temporary contentment', this is beside the point. The point is: be content, BUT ALSO BE HAPPY.
Being content and seeking happiness are equally important for one’s mental health because both frames of mind provide you with different senses of satisfaction... peace and pleasure.
But now back to that girl I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Contentment was only more important than the supersonic happiness I felt with her because that sort of happiness was out of my control.
It made me lose sense of my sense of contentment, and that’s why I so often felt such excruciating pain at times when I normally wouldn’t have otherwise. So if I am to feel that level of happiness again with another girl, that will be fantastic, but not when the other end of the spectrum, of said frame-of-mind, is a deep degree of misery.
There are possibly many people out there who can bring you such joy that your body and mind cannot put it into words, but I am certain only a tiny handful of those individuals can bring along their own personal strong sense of contentment which will then compliment your own strong sense of contentment. For me, that ‘girl’ in my past was not ‘that girl’. I do not regret a moment of time I spent with her, however, but would not choose to re-experience that time in my life again either.
In Absolute Conclusion...
If you’re the sort of person who would prefer to live only 'in contentment', never seeking out 'happinesses', I can’t imagine this would be an entirely bad thing. Just a shame, in my opinion, because there’s FAR more to life than what you already have, even though what you already have is indeed absolutely wonderful. But if you fear that in seeking happiness you might lose your sense of contentment somehow, then I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit to remember that appreciating 'now' isn’t that difficult if you consciously choose to.
Contentment is not about letting go of all life’s potential pleasures; contentment is about knowing that you can let go of all life’s potential pleasures if you NEED to, and you'll still be able to live a pleasant existence.
So I honestly believe that, in regards to being content or being happy, you can both eat your cake AND still have it (to phrase the popular quote, but in my own words). Or, to put it a completely different way: I honestly think you can be as content as a monk without having to be a monk.
Happiness is the product of fulfilling a desire, while contentment is the product of realizing your desires are already fulfilled.
Know this difference between the two terms, then try and find a balance of both.
Well it works for me at least!
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