Contentment vs. happiness

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?

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors. 

If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder. 


48 Comments Add yours

  1. Love this and couldn’t agree more. Happiness is fleeting but contentment is the warm glow that lasts.

    1. Ali says:

      Glad you liked it. It’s been bubbling for a while!

  2. My friend and I were discussing this a very long time ago. This is perfectly written – captures exactly the difference.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you! 😀

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    You covered that question so well there’s little more to add except to say I agree with you. Contentedly.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Jane. 🙂

  4. bcparkison says:

    Contentment can’t be bought. Happy can but must to be bought over and over again.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes. It is insatiable!

  5. Heyjude says:

    Contentment means being at ease with oneself. Relaxed, accepting, tolerant and patient. Satisfied with one’s lot. Contentment gives me happiness.

    Great, thought-provoking post Ali.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, those are very good points, that is exactly what contentment means to me.

  6. Eliza Waters says:

    Great and thoughtful post, Ali. I think gratitude for what you have brings contentment. Happiness is like a sugar hit, it doesn’t last long!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Eliza. 🙏

  7. pommepal says:

    A thoughtful and well written post. You have captured the essence of contentment, the beauty of achievement from perseverance as apposed to the fleeting happiness of external gifts.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you.

  8. This message was so helpful for me today. In the last few years, I have realized how much I spend my life living outside of the moment. Your post reminded me how much being present with myself in the moment and all that is in that moment, and choosing to do this day after day, is an essential part of contentment. I love these lines: “Do it with all your being. Tune into it. Bathe in it.”

    1. Ali says:

      I’m so glad Shelly. Your posts often seem timed to what I need at that moment. I’m glad I have reciprocated!

  9. That was such an amazing and beautiful read. Im going to email it to my daughter who is 26 and a dancer in London, I know she will enjoy reading it.

    1. Ali says:

      I realised I needed to change a setting, but you can now email it! Thank you so much; it is lovely to get this feedback. X

      1. My daughter read it and absolutely loved it.

  10. What a lovely meditation. I’m so glad to have been introduced to your blog.

  11. fredgardener says:

    I don’t know what was the click for you to start writing this beautiful post. It’s very well written, very interesting. (I don’t identify because I don’t have a close sibling, but I can imagine what you mean)
    You had probably happiness while writing this post, you will probably have contentment while reading our comments!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Fred! I was thinking about comparisons between siblings but also friends, other family members, colleagues, too. And that we have to learn to manage envy in order to gain contentment. Thank you for your comment! 😀

  12. A lovely thought-provoking post, Ali – thank you. A variation on your theme – buying plants is happiness, tending the garden is pure contentment 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Absolutely. ❤️

  13. Robyn Haynes says:

    Happiness is knowing the difference.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes. Self-knowledge and reflection are valuable.

  14. Cathy says:

    This is a beautifully written post Ali. These sentiments are perfectly expressed and I share them wholeheartedly. I do hope your daughters will read this and learn just a little from it. Sadly a lot of what you say may only become clear to them with age and experience, but I think they have a great Mum and will be fine! 😀

  15. Contentment, for me, seems to have come with age. It’s a lovely thing to settle into!

    1. Ali says:

      I agree. I wouldn’t swop contentment in my forties for insecurities in my twenties!

  16. Sam says:

    Lovely post, Ali, and I wholeheartedly agree with what you say. I think our youngsters are bombarded with the ‘message’ that you can do/buy things to make you happy and that if you don’t do or buy these things you will therefore be unhappy. How to companies sell stuff? By making us think we need it to be happy, better, fitter, healthier, etc. The insidious nature of marketing… It’s up to us to raise our children to understand the difference and to aim for contentment if possible. A burst of happiness may be more exciting but it is, as you say, fleeting. Give me contentment any day 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, and making children aware of what advertising and marketing is doing can be really helpful. We spend quite a lot of time deconstructing the messages – I am impressed by how astute my daughters are. Though we are all fallible at times!

      1. Sam says:

        Of course we are – I buy things that make me happy – but it’s good to understand why 🙂 [Really enjoying your blog, by the way. Am impressed by your output!]

      2. Ali says:

        Thank you for the encouragement! I am enjoying it!

  17. Reblogged this on Through rose tinted glasses. and commented:
    I loved this blog and thought I would repost it as Im sure others will enjoy it just as much as I did.

  18. Keith says:

    Well said. To me the key word in your post is “sustainable .” If we had a constant state of happiness, we may exhaust ourselves.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes. That is a good point. We need rest breaks!

  19. 3C Style says:

    Beautifully written Ali. Couldn’t have said it better. And I absolutely love the meaning of this post. Great read. Also a big thanks to Alison from Through rose tinted glasses for sharing.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you, and ditto, thank you to ‘Through Rose-Tinted Glasses’ for sharing!

      1. 3C Style says:

        It was a truly great post.

  20. Ali says:

    Ah, am glad you enjoyed it.

  21. vivachange77 says:

    Nice dialogue between happiness and contentment. Well written. Thanks for your wise words.

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you for your kind comment. X

  22. Baydreamer says:

    You conveyed the differences between the two perfectly. Thanks to Alison for sharing, too!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you, Baydreamer!

  23. praveenitech says:

    Nice read. Learning about contentment. Looking forward to get the light glow continuously without any flicker.

    1. Ali says:

      That is a very good description. Yes, that is what we’re aiming for.

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