Thursday, 20 January 2011

Happy or content?

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Recently I had a conversation that really made me stop and think. I asked 'what is the difference between happiness and contentment'. The reply - 'When you're content, you are settling. When you are happy, you are experiencing joy for a short period of time.' 

So, has Emerson got it wrong? I don't think so. The 'pursuit' of happiness is written into the American Constition not the 'aquisition'. If we were totally content with our lives, there would be no need to set goals, to strive for more. 

Too many times people seek happiness as their goal in life…their sole objective. If only I had enough money, an exciting career, a better marriage, a sensitive lover, more time for my leisure activities, was thinner, etc., I would be happy. Many of us have felt this way at one time or another. We equate happiness with the things (objects, talents, people) we don't have in our lives rather than by things that we do have in our lives, always looking for things outside ourselves to make us complete, feel whole, successful and happy. The emphasis is on ourselves and what we have or have not.

Problems arise for many who believe that life will be as they expect and 'deserve' and are bitterly disappointed when it doesn't turn out that way. Until we focus on changing our attitudes about such ideals as happiness, we will always be looking somewhere else for it. If we continue to look for the ideal permanent state called 'happiness', we can feel like we are on an emotional roller coaster, never knowing when the downs will come with the ups.

A contented person accepts themselves for who they are regardless of their faults and talents. They realise that to be satisfied is an experience that brings peace of mind. This is not to say that they don't set themselves goals and grasp happiness when they find it. Happiness is something that comes and goes. It is about excitement, fun, pleasurable moments, actions, and material things that are external and often beyond our control.

To sum up;  
Happiness is transitory. It is a feeling; a sense of joy and pleasure, intense but unreliable. It is dependent on things external to ourselves.
Contentment is something internal that lasts. It is influenced by external circumstances but it is an internal attitude and can be cultivated.  Contentment is nature’s Prozac. It keeps you going through the bad times and the good without making too much fuss of either. It comes with being useful, honourable, compassionate and knowing that you are making a difference by living your life well.