In a society that lives, breathes even, on the credo of “more, better, faster”, I often feel like I am chasing ghosts in my search for inner contentment. Don’t get me wrong – I am not giving up. But so often I spend an entire day chasing what I think is “contentment”, only to discover by day’s end that it was just another desire.
For instance, recently I realized that the state of “happiness” and the state of “contentment” are not one and the same. They cannot possibly be. When I look at the examples of the lives of the great ones – Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Jesus, Buddha, Moses and others- I see so much hardship as well as joy. Yet these are the same beings who continually advocated a peaceful approach, an approach where each day is a whole life lived in and of itself, and one’s inner state is entirely dependent upon one’s own intention about the same.
The definition of “contentment” I find in modern language dictionaries is similarly confusing. For instance, Dictionary.com states that contentment means “a state of happiness and satisfaction”. But contrast this with what the Bible (and probably other great holy texts) say contentment means: “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances”.
This second definition, to me, much more fully describes what I am attempting to cultivate in my own life. When I am feeling happy (which is usually because I am getting something I want) it is easy to be contented. But what about when I am not feeling so happy? What about when I feel depressed or sad, angry or lonely? Where is contentment then?
If contentment is not the same as happiness, not the same as satisfaction, then it must still be there, hiding underneath the endless surf of my emotions. It has to be there – or otherwise the entire concept of “contentment” is a myth – an urban legend.
I do have one bit of good news to share on this front, however – right in the moment when I first had this realization, I instantly began to feel more contented. The pressure I had been placing upon myself to enhance some emotions and reduce others was relieved. I felt relieved to realize that contentment must be a deeper state than what any one day’s events could foster, because now contentment appears to me to be something real, something that, once cultivated in some consistency, I can really trust and rely on to support me through ALL of life, not just the “good days” life brings.
Today’s Takeaway: What has been your experience of contentment to date? Have you been able to find contentment in life even when your plans don’t go the way you expect or want them to? How would enhancing contentment perhaps enhance your enjoyment of life as well?
Woman driving photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 6 Dec 2012