Happiness is a quality of life we feel everyone has a right to pursue. So much so that it’s written in our constitution. What we think of when we envision happiness has a lot to say about what we are using that right for. Some of us maybe think of our family, a lone cabin in the woods, a bigger paycheck, or retirement. Regardless of what it looks like for you, happiness is typically seen as corresponding with a material gain accompanied by a rush of neurotransmitters.
Contentment on the other hand is not perceived as exciting. We don’t explicitly have a right to pursue contentment, at least in writing, even though that may be a decent pursuit when we think about it. Contentment is usually taken to be a place of rest. A feeling after all the work has been done and we can sit with it and know it is good just the way it is.
Contentment has gotten something of a bad name in our culture. We’re on the go all of the time, we always need to be doing something to get somewhere. If we are content, that seems to imply that we’ve put less energy towards the chase and we’re satisfied with sitting on our ass not doing anything about it. If we’re in an interview for a promotion for example, we probably shouldn’t tell our boss that we are content where we are. Our culture values striving for more, and equivocates contentment with either dropping out of the game, or mere laziness.
It’s rather sad to look at these two definitions and think about some of the implications of what they mean for our lives. Material happiness is something for the minority. Not everyone will get material things in this world that some define as resulting in happiness. There are those of us that will be forever chasing happiness. We will have projected goodness just out of reach until one day we realize it is the end and we never really got what we thought we were promised.
If only there was a way to get the best of both of these feelings and carry them with us in our daily lives. Contentment is great because it is always immediate, its a stable place to live in. Happiness is great because it’s a positive experience, although fleeting as it is usually a temporal experience. In short, we are attempting to find something consistent and attribute an association of positivity towards it.
This is an iconic quest for those of us interested in introspection. The quest for happiness is initially done with external goods in mind as previously mentioned. We rarely consider that happiness is something which can be found internally, even if we have heard it many times before. During introspection, the subject we are looking into is an internal good, namely ourselves. If we can become happy with what we find during this study, we will have succeeded in merging happiness with contentment. What you wind up being happy with, is you, which is just about the most consistent thing in your life.