Recently I went on a training course at work (a systems engineering short course – I live a glamorous life) and as a starter activity we were asked to call out what we believe a successful life looks like. For me, I sat there thinking of things like ‘no money worries’, ‘good health’ and ‘happiness’. The former two indeed went on the list, but the latter did not. Instead of ‘happiness’, many people called out ‘contentment’.
And this surprised me. Contentment? Isn’t that just being satisfied? Settling with what you have? Surely happiness trumps contentment? We should always be looking to improve, not just settle. Since the course and until a couple of days ago, this continued to baffle me. As someone who has gone through their own stress-filled, reclusive period in their life, I now want to be happy. I want to have a healthy work-life balance, be ambitious, laugh (a lot) and take as much enjoyment from life as possible. I want the highs. Sure, they’re going to be interspersed with lows but I want to strive for happy moments, not just settling for what I have.
And then the other morning it all made sense. I was sitting in my lounge, it was about 8.30 am and I’d been awake (annoyingly because it was the weekend) since half-five. The curtains were pulled back, the sky grey but brightening. All the side-lamps were on, some acoustic yadda-yadda playing in the background and I was sat there, in the middle of the sofa, in amongst far too many cushions and under a delightfully-tacky fluffy blanket and I felt it. Contentment. And it was just really really lovely.
I don’t think I’d ever really felt it before, not like I did in that moment. I wasn’t surrounded by my couldn’t-live-without-them family nor admiring the cuteness of our dog nor laughing with friends. I would do all of that later in the day but in that moment I felt very calm, unstressed and peaceful. I was comfortable with my life. I felt content.
And that was when I realised that contentment is what I should be striving for.
Googling it, the question of happiness vs. contentment is not a new one but the few articles I read all came to the same conclusion I too had found myself at. To me, happiness is a degree of elation: those moments where you’re crying with laughter or experiencing those heart-squishing feelings induced by loved ones and they’re balanced sometimes with moments of sadness or anger. But what about the rest of the time? The mundane times when there’s nothing particularly special happening? When you’re sat in your living room at 8.30 am in your pyjamas? If in those states in between, where we spend the majority of our lives, you can have a calm basecamp where you can just feel at ease and at peace with your life, then that’s incredible. I realised (that for me anyway) contentment isn’t just settling, it’s being satisfied with who you are and what you have.
So from now on I will strive for happiness but more importantly, I will strive for contentment. Because, as I am starting to find, it is just really really lovely.