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.