My last post was about the difference between short-term excitement (fun), sustained pleasurable moments (joy), and an inner feeling of well-being (happiness).
Following on from that, and from comments by readers, I thought I would take a closer look at the inner feeling of well-being I was trying to achieve.
Happiness is a mental and emotional state of well-being characterized by positive emotions and living a flourishing life. To be truly happy all needs are met including comforts, pleasures, engagement, relationships, high self-esteem, meaningful activities and accomplishments.
Contentment, on the other hand, means being satisfied with what you have. If your income does not afford a comfortable lifestyle, you accommodate to a modest one. If you are overweight / getting older or whatever else you feel may be a shortcoming, you are grateful for your good health. If you cannot climb mountains, you are satisfied with walking along the beach. If a relationship fractures, you are grateful for those loved ones you still have. If your family lives away and you cannot see them as much as if they were nearby, you are pleased you can communicate by other means. If you live alone, you embrace aloneness for its opportunities. If you have not quite reached what you believe is your potential, you are satisfied with how far you have come. Rather than needing exciting activities to make you feel alive, you are contented with simply enjoying each day, for its moments of joy, and for the pleasures you can make from it.
Looking back at the definitions above. Happiness requires all my needs to be met. Contentment requires me to be satisfied with what I have at this point in time.
Are all my needs being met? Probably Not.
Am I satisfied with what I have? Absolutely.
I believe that contentment, rather than happiness, is the ultimate for achieving inner peace and a long-term feeling of well-being.
Does being contented, and therefore being satisfied with what you have, mean not striving for a better life? Not at all. Being contented is being happy with how far you have come and accepting who you are. Part of that acceptance for me is being satisfied that I will always be making goals, I will always be looking to the future, I will always be aiming higher, I will always be striving forward. That is part of who I am. I am satisfied and content with that.
If the difference between fun and joy can be thought of as the difference between laughing and smiling; then I believe the difference between being happy and being contented is the difference between reaching the stars, and being satisfied in the journey to the stars. For the first (happiness), it means I would not feel the emotion until I got there. For the second (contentment), it means I can have inner peace from the very start and would have already reached my destination.
On the eve of the closing of my new home, I clicked on your blog and, in that cheery picture, saw what I imagine as MY potential contentment– growing some flowers around my little place (ones I, not my ex, choose!) and (not pictured) growing veggies and canning again. I hope whatever your contentment looks like will paint itself before your eyes, too!
I had always been a contented optimistic person and so when the big ‘D’ came along, I didn’t know what to do with the “this sucks” thought processes I was having. You and other bloggers helped me understand that it is ok to not feel ok when things in your life are not ok. Still there are all those “Be Happy” blogs and websites that make you feel your own life is somehow falling short. That’s when I felt that the distinction between ‘happiness’ and ‘contentment’ is SO important. True happiness seems remote. Contentment feels achievable.
I am SO glad that you are finding your own contentment, with your secure job and now your home. It is also great that this is YOUR home and YOUR life. This is SO empowering for you. Congratulations. You deserve the peace that this will bring.
I like the idea of reaching FOR the stars and the journey towards them, too. The journey provides contentment instead of wanting it “all,” being happy with what you already have. It still leaves room for adding things to your happiness “pile” and making room for new things on your journey! Great post and thanks for your nice message about ‘comic relief’ on mine
You are SO correct. Learning to enjoy the journey is the key to contentment I feel. Thanks for your message.
Elizabeth, this is an interesting discussion about the distinction between these states of being. Nice job!
Thanks. I sometimes feel that aiming for ‘happiness’ is a bit high. Contentment, however, is nearly always achievable.
That’s a good distinction, Elizabeth, and I would like to think that we both will find a balance of both.
You are doing my head in now! In a good way!
My daughter says to me ‘Mum, can’t you just enjoy yourself without analyzing what feeling you are getting?’ Out of the mouth of babes. It is different when one of the big ‘D’s come along (death, disease, divorce, disablement, debt, disaster). Then finding a place of contentment is a little trickier but probably easier than trying to be over-the-moon ‘happy’ all the time.
I love the difference as you describe them — I too like the journey for it is here that I am, and when I am contented with where I’m at, I feel happiness embrace me.
It is amazing how the first (contentment) leads to the second (happiness). Such a simple concept, yet one we too often forget to embrace.
Elizabeth I really love the grasp you have on the English language. I am content as well. I continue to strive for new things too and along the way I have such moments of fun and joy as well!
I am not sure whether it is a good grasp on the English language or a little pep talk to myself. ‘Self, be contented with what you have, it’s not all that bad!’
Once I start believing that, the wallowing stops, the spirits uplift, and it is easier to enjoy the moments of the day.
And then life can be fun, joyous, and even…….”happy”.
LOVE your outlook on life.
(smiling) It comes down to attitude… love it.
Great series of posts! It’s interesting to ponder the differences between happiness and contentment. . . and between fun, joy, and happiness.
Yes it is. The more I think about it, the more I realise that contentment is a choice, whereas ‘happiness’ is something people expect to happen. Yet, it you become contented, happiness more easily follows.
Thanks for stopping by and following my blog. I like your distinction between happiness and contentment; it gives me something to think about. For me, happiness is sometimes connected to events that engage me so intensely I am focused only on what I am experiencing. Embracing all that is contentment, too. You are right. We have the power to create our own happiness and contentment. True power lies in our response.
You I agree. Yet sometimes that which you speak of – total engagement with your experience – is difficult if there is something you are thinking about, anxious about. So true happiness requires you to be satisfied with your overall life as well and, if that is not possible, then empowering yourself to fix whatever it is out of alignment.
Yes! True happiness is sometimes a lot of work and a big challenge because you are responsible for your own spiritual/emotional growth. But the effort pays off. It’s like climbing a mountain – you can’t reach the summit without actually climbing. I have found that Chaldean numerology empowers people to reach the summit.
Thanks for your inspiration on this.
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