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How to be content

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Giraffe-a-licious | 13:59 UK time, Monday, 10 March 2008

I’ve been rather pondering a particular topic rather deeply recently. What’s the difference between happiness and contentedness? I’m pretty sure they’re not the same thing. Similar? Yes. The same? No. One of my biggest aims in life is simply to be content. Obviously happiness is also desirable but I don’t think that you can very well be happy all the time. But contentedness seems more reachable.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines contented as: ‘feeling or showing satisfaction with one's possessions, status, or situation’. That sounds pretty accurate to me. So how do we go about trying to be content when our possessions, status and situation are in a pretty miserable state?

I’m going to skim over the possessions aspect of this question. I’m fortunate enough to not be wanting in that respect. I’m no Bill Gates but materially, for the moment at least, I have everything I need to get by. Status and situation are a different kettle of fish. I’m not actually entirely sure of the distinction between status and situation! There must be some technical difference but for these purposes I’m going to treat them as one and the same.

I’m at my most content when the status quo is preserved; when my health is at the level that I’m used to and I can operate at my usual pace. I might not be incredibly happy but I can be content; grateful for what I can do and accepting of the things I can’t. It’s a peaceful state of mind to be in but all too often events conspire to turn my contentedness into frustration. Dissatisfaction is a simple human failing, but one that if eradicated would make the world a much nicer place! These days we’re constantly being told than we deserve this and that. We have rights not privileges. The good things in our lives are not blessings; they are merely what we are entitled to. Living with this attitude means that contentment is near impossible. I find that gratitude is essential to contentedness. I must be thankful for what I have. Yes, of course I’m going to get angry at times and rail against the restrictions that are imposed on me by my illness. And believe me, I can rant and rave with the best of them. But if I’m never grateful for the things that I am fortunate enough to have then I’ll never be content. I might be happy from time to time, but never content.

I’d be interested to know the views of others on this. I’m a Christian and I wonder if perhaps I’m able to be more content because of my belief that I’m only going to have to deal with this messed up body of mine for a relatively short period of time. I have an eternal, heavenly destination to look forward to. What about those who don’t share my beliefs? In short, how does each of us find contentment?

• Visit Ponderings and Ruminations


  • 1.
  • At 03:21 PM on 10 Mar 2008, shaz wrote:

I too look for contentment but can not understand what it is.

If contentment means that you are satisfied with who you are and what you do, would you ever strife to better yourself? Would you ever look at your own actions and try to bring yourself to account?

I think I am most happy when I am using my talents and abilities to do some good, to do something which makes a difference in the world and in my immediate surroundings, a difference for the better and that I can see that my time, my energies and my existence has been of benefit. When I am busy doing such work, I am at peace with myself, I am truly happy with myself and with all that is around me. I am as they say in my element. Maybe this is contentment, when we are using our talents and abilities to server the world of humanity.

If we look at Nature, we see that all created things give something back to nature and contribute to the ongoing chain of events which give birth and sustain life.

We humans on the other hand are only concerned with getting. We always ask ‘what is in it for me’. Our jobs no longer are platforms through which we are able to use our talents, abilities and creativity to give something to the society. Families and children are our rights instead of our opportunities through which we can contribute to the society. So maybe this is why most people are not truly content, well that is what I think..

  • 2.
  • At 05:00 PM on 10 Mar 2008, Kathryn Williams wrote:

Like you, I am a Christian. That does help my content a lot since I know that despite the many things I cannot do now, I have an eternity in a perfect mind and body to look forward to.

I think that having ME (or any long-term disabaling condition) lowers your contentment threshold and teaches you to make the most of what you have got, rather than continually fret for the unattainable. As shaz said (above) contentment and happiness lie in the give-and-take of life. It is always better to look on the things we receive (be it material things, kindnesses, health or simply good luck) as bonuses - things to be thankful for. The worker is worthy of his hire, but he won't make any friends by rudely demanding it of his employer! And, if you don't have an over-inflated opinion of yourself, you won't feel slieghted when things are less than perfect.

The best thing about being content is that when something nice happens to you it comes as a pleasent surprise, rather than an over-due recompense.

This comment has grown until it is almost a posting in its own right. I shall now stop clogging up your blog, and try to write something original for my own (some hope!)

Thanks for sharing your ponderings and ruminations with us on Ouch!, Giraffe-a-licious.

I think it's entirely down to perceptions.

There have been times when I've been having a better phase, and I've got food in the fridge and money in the bank, and yet, I've felt really quite dismal and dissatisfied with my life.

Conversely, there have been other times, when the fridge contains only half a block of ancient cheese, and the bank statement is scary, and I'm confined to bed and yelping with pain every time I turn over... and yet, I've felt incredibly fortunate just because of looking at a photograph or something.

  • 4.
  • At 12:02 PM on 11 Mar 2008, Chris Page wrote:

I think it depends on whether you mean a personal status quo, or the status quo in society. I refuse to be "content" about the latter, when very often it means accepting that discrimination exists, and that we should be grateful for what we're begrudgingly given. Of course we have resposibilities to go with rights, but I find that the way people who push this point frame it in such a way as to make rights a privilege. Contentment often leads to social atrophy and complacency if you're not careful.

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