I recently read an interesting article called “Stop Trying so Hard to be Happy,” which discusses the difference between happiness and contentment and why we should strive for the latter as opposed to the former (read the full article here). Though the story behind the article was extremely sad and heartbreaking, the author’s points were dead on and pretty much in line with a lot that I write about on this blog.
So what’s the difference between happiness and contentment anyways? Let’s check with good old Merriam-Webster:
feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment
pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc.
pleased and satisfied; not needing more
By just looking at the definitions, happiness seems to be more of a short-term thing. We feel happy because of a particular situation or event. It occurs as a result of something happening in our life. The word happiness itself is derived from the Norse word hap, which means luck or chance. That seems pretty short-term to me. Luck certainly doesn’t last forever.
On the other hand, contentment is just feeling satisfied and not needing anything else. There doesn’t seem to be a time frame surrounding it. It isn't a result of something happening. Instead, it is a way of being. Being content with your life and everything within it, including the ups and downs, the happiness and the sorrow. Seems grander, more overarching as opposed to specific to a time or circumstance.
The author discusses the short-term nature of happiness when he states “that while we may savor happiness episodically, it will invariably be disrupted by unwelcome negative feelings.” This is the nature of life. There is always a balance between good and bad. We will have happy days and we will have sad days. Striving to be unrelentingly positive and happy 100% of the time is a difficult, if not impossible task.
If happiness in life is an elusive goal then how do we reach a state of contentment? The author states that this occurs “by participating in a challenging, and at times even distressing process of self-exploration whose purpose is to enhance self understanding and acceptance.” In other words, finding what makes you tick, what fulfills you and satisfies you deep down to your soul. As I’ve mentioned before, I call this finding your formula. Finding your flow or your recipe. It is a state of complete balance with all things in your life.
How do you know when you’ve gotten to a state of contentment? When you feel “a deep-seated, abiding acceptance of one’s self and one’s worth together with a sense of self-fulfillment, meaning and purpose.” When you reach this state, it is harder for negative feelings or other things that inevitably come up in life to knock you off balance. You are able to bounce back faster because you know deep down who you are and what you are meant to do with your life. And you accept it and love it.
The author sums it up pretty well when he states that “accepting and respecting oneself, coupled with determining what is personally meaningful, stand a greater chance of accomplishment, even if never completed, than a relentless and ultimately futile pursuit of happiness. What’s more, contentment has the potential to serve as a robust foundation upon which episodes of joy and pleasure can be experienced and cherished.”
I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty awesome. And I'm willing to put in the work to get there. Are you?
~Peace, love and contentment~