My daughters are at an age when there are lots of comparisons. Clothes, make-up, phones, grades, ‘likes’…
Acquiring such things can bring happiness. But does it bring contentment?
Happiness is a short burst, and generally comes from something external. Someone praises your work. You get 300 followers on social media. You click ‘buy’ on your favourite website.
Contentment is a slow burn, and generally comes from within. You consistently work hard at something. You have to stick with it and exercise patience. There is adversity and frustration, and times like it seems you are not getting a reward, but you keep at it. You have a sense of direction, and are following a path. You enjoy the process. You toil the soil. You stitch together. You keep doing the boring stuff, like sorting the washing and putting away the dishes. You may or may not get recognition, but you know you are doing a good job.
Happiness is falling in love. Contentment is understanding another’s perspective, communicating your thoughts and feelings respectfully, and working together.
Happiness is getting your dream job. Contentment is completing the myriad tasks that go into that role, even though there is a lot of paperwork and mandatory training alongside the moments of discovery and recognition. Happiness is getting paid. Contentment is knowing you are worth it.
Happiness is signing the dotted line for your new home. Contentment is making it your own. And keeping it clean. And looking after it so that others enjoy it too.
Happiness is getting the spark of a fantastic idea and being able to follow this up. Contentment is working away at it, shaping it, remoulding it, worrying over it, thinking, trying again, finding a way through. You might not get discovered. You might not get the loan or the award. But you keep on doing it, because you enjoy it.
Happiness is filling your cart with tulip bulbs or dahlia tubers or packets of seed. Contentment is reading the instructions and deciding if you’re going to follow them. Growing them on, inspecting them, watering them, potting them on, deciding when they are ready to go outside, going a little bit neurotic if they get nibbled or wilt a bit. Reading up to check you are doing the right thing. Pinching out the tips because you know you have to. Keeping on tying in and dead-heading to keep it going for as long as you can. Collecting seed for next time.
Happiness is getting the expensive gift. Contentment is looking after it.
Happiness is what is done to you or done for you. It is what other people or objects bring. It requires gratitude.
Contentment is what you do. You cultivate it. It requires diligence and patience.
Happiness comes and goes. You get a lovely burst of dopamine, but it won’t last long. It is the crack-cocaine of the emotions. It is the double-chocolate fudge brownie. The iPhone X. The 5K ‘likes’.
Contentment stays with you. You know that it was your hard work that made that patchwork quilt, that drawing, that poem. You deserve that Duke of Edinburgh Award. That driving licence. That sorted-out sock drawer! If you’ve done it once, you can do it again. You will go on working hard, having good ideas, making it happen. It is within you.
Happiness is transient. Contentment is sustainable.
Bursts of happiness are lovely, but they can’t be hoarded for later. Contentment can. We have to work on what brings us contentment in order to guard against life’s knocks and challenges. Life will happen. If we have learnt what brings contentment, we can better weather the storms.
If we crave happiness, or expect happiness, or even demand happiness from external factors (the latest gadget, a fast car, a partner, a cigarette, a well-paid job), then we may get angry or disappointed when the effects don’t last. Craving happiness can make us forget to put the effort in ourselves. We need to work at fostering contentment.
How do we get contentment?
By tuning in to what brings us peace, joy, calm. It might be reading, playing the piano, walking, petting a dog, eating a peach. Do it with all your being. Tune into it. Bathe in it.
We get contentment from appreciating the world around us. By being grateful for what we do have. By observing nature. By spending time outdoors. By noticing those around us. By loving ourselves as we are. By sharing our joy. By allowing sadness and grief, but also allowing self-love and self-care. By doing more of what we enjoy.
We are not our possessions. We are not our body-shape. We are not our partner, children, homes, jobs. We are this lived moment.
We can choose contentment. We can practise it. We can get better at it. Instead of focusing on what we want, we can focus on what we are doing right now.
Whilst happiness is a fun fling, contentment is a lifelong friend.
Happiness is a bursting flower. Contentment is the bulb that stores the energy for the whole year.
Happiness is a firework high in the sky. It makes us gasp with excitement. Contentment is a warm glow inside. We carry it with us everywhere we go.
What brings you contentment? How did you find it? Has contentment helped you to overcome challenges and obstacles in your life?