The world is messed, but the reality is that we can ignore most of those problems if we find contentment in life. So often, we are pushed to seek out more in life, a bigger house, a better job; we are expected to live larger and spend money. But these activities don’t bring us closer to a profound sense of happiness or fulfilment.
Contentment is about finding pleasure and satisfaction in what you already have. Rather than seeking out more, the advantage of contentment is that it asks us to accept and be happy with what we have. Contentment is a mental state, suggesting it has more to do with meaning than stuff.
If you have ever been curious about the idea of contentment, keep reading as we will discuss how it relates to happiness. On the other hand, if you seek happiness, we will discuss how contentment is the best source.
What is contentment, and Why Does it Matter?
Contentment is the feeling that we get when we are satisfied in our mind, body and situation. When we think about someone being filled with contentment, we might picture someone who accepts the situation they find themselves in and are happy with it.
If I think about myself and my sense of contentment, I will hazard to say that I might be too content sometimes. I say this because I only bought my first car a couple of months before my daughter was born. Similarly, I am almost 40, and we are only now in the process of trying to buy our first house. I suggest this is a form of contentment because I was satisfied and okay with not owning or using a car. The same could be said for the house; I mainly want one now for the stability it will give my daughter.
When I think of contentment, I’m reminded of ideas from stoicism. In particular, the stoics talk about learning to accept what we can’t change and instead focus on what we can, like our emotional response to a situation.
Practically speaking, you can’t control the weather, but you can choose to dance in the rain or mope and be miserable.
Putting this in the context of contentment, once we learn to accept that there are aspects of our lives that we can’t control, we can move on to other things. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to change the world around us; that is always an option.
Instead, it is essential to realize that some things can’t change, so we should accept them and move on rather than being sad or upset.
While there might be a few things in our lives that are difficult to get past, we shouldn’t let that discourage us. Instead, we should use it as the motivation we need to adjust our perspective of the situation and improve it. Contentment isn’t always the case; it could be something that we are working towards, which is why many religions focus on it.
Some people might say that contentment in life is the only way to be happy; while I can’t be sure if that is true, I think there are different types of happiness. And while there are other possibilities, the fact that contentment is the least destructive to the world at large might explain why it is such a valuable concept.
Is contentment Happiness?
There are different types of happiness in life; you might remember being happy on vacation or after winning a prize or getting a promotion. People might also say they were happy when recognized for action like buying a fancy sports car. Some people may even find happiness in going to the store and picking up some treats.
While all these examples of happiness might be true, they all stem from some external factor. When you do something, and the people around you recognize it or compliment you, that feels good.
In a way, your judgment is being judged well by others. On the other hand, I’d suggest that contentment comes from the inside.
This isn’t to say that things from the outside don’t matter; no doubt, having a safe, clean place to sleep will make it much easier to be content about your situation. Having a job that you love and a family that adores you will also make finding contentment in life much easier.
But the argument could be made, that if you aren’t happy in your current situation, how will you be any more satisfied if things changed?
There is no doubt that material things make a difference; we all need to have the basics to survive and live well. But to a certain extent, we need to be sure that we are also looking inside for the happiness we seek.
No matter what you have, if your mind can’t see yourself as a happy person, you’re unlikely to find joy in the world.
As I mentioned before, contentment is not only a state of being but a pursuit or a process. I can say for myself that I’m much more satisfied with my life now than I was in the past. And there are lots of reasons for that.
What matters most is that my mind has changed, and my priorities have evolved based on my circumstances.
Contentment in life will lead to the best type of happiness because it will come from within and won’t depend on external factors.
We can’t always get what we want, but as long as we are satisfied with what we have or can get, we will always find happiness.
Can you be content without being happy?
Contentment is a state of mind that tends to be consistent; if you are content, you will likely be content tomorrow, assuming nothing huge happens. On the other hand, being happy tends to be associated with external events; when winning something, you are happy because of what happened outside. In contrast, contentment has to come from the inside.
For this reason, you can be content without being happy because happiness can be quick and in the moment, whereas contentment is slow and longer-lasting.
And as Jordan Peterson suggests, happiness comes from dopamine, which is produced in response to actions in the world leading to meaningful goals. At the same time, contentment comes from serotonin, which is produced when goals are achieved and stabilizes our emotions. Put more simply, different chemicals inside our brains create these two emotional states, but the same sorts of events can cause them.
Happiness might also come out of doing things in the world, so having fun with your friends will feel good and make a big difference in your day. But you aren’t likely to get the same feeling while sitting at home alone with a book.
These experiences can be meaningful in their own ways but could be caused by entirely different reward systems.
As long as your life doesn’t suck too much, it will be possible, but not necessarily easy to be content. But even if everything sucks, you might still be able to find happiness in some experiences.
Contentment in Life is the Only Way to be Happy
Contentment in life might not be the only way to find happiness, but it might be the best way to find long-lasting significant satisfaction. Put another way, buying something you’ve always wanted is going to make you happy for a while. But after a few weeks, is it still going to matter? Will it still make you happy?
If we are willing to accept that some emotions can be shorted lived, then there is no problem finding temporary happiness when we can.
On the other hand, if we look for deep, long-lasting joy in our lives, that will take effort. While there are always things that we can do to improve our lives, we need to be willing to look deep inside to find contentment.
To a certain extent, our ability to find contentment in our lives might come down to things we can’t control, like genes or circumstances. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on finding happiness.
Instead, we need to look at it as a process that we can work through. In many ways, this might depend on our attitude, so it is important to stay positive.
I’ve also talked a lot about how finding our life’s purpose is difficult but important.
What’s critical here is that you always know what you need to do by having a purpose or goal to work towards.
To a certain extent, that seems to be what contentment is all about, cause when we make efforts and see our lives change, that gives us fulfilment and makes us happy.
What we do with our lives is up to us, so we have to choose from seeking quick wins that will bring temporary happiness—or going after the big things that take time but will matter much more in the long term.
Regardless the choice is up to you, but I’m sure you know which option I think is best.
Thanks for reading.