Let's start with a couple of questions. What would you rather feel most of the time, happy or contented?
This prompts the following question. What is the difference between happiness and contented?
Happiness is generally defined as the experience of frequent positive thoughts, such as joy, interest or pride.
Contentment is generally defined as a longer lasting, but a deeper feeling of satisfaction and gratitude.
Happiness is arguably viewed as having a temporary feeling attached to it. Whereas contentment is viewed by many to have a long-lasting effect on those that experience it.
So, in returning to the title of this story, which one is better? Happiness or contentment?
Sure, happiness sounds preferable. Who wouldn’t want to experience emotions of positive thoughts, such as joy, interest or pride? But as stated above, happiness is not perceived as being a permanent emotion.
Contentment on the other hand, although the immediate benefits appear less beneficial on the mind, the effects are arguably longer lasting.
So what should we be aiming for?
A higher, but short-term hit, or less of a hit, but it lasts a lot longer.
In the following article I discussed the need and purpose of choosing one over the other in the context of delayed gratification:
Delayed gratification refers to an individual’s potential and capability of delaying something pleasurable now. This is…
In returning to this story, is it possible to be happy all the time? Is this general view of contentment’s longevity simply an urban myth and an unjustified generalisation?
Are we aiming too high in striving to be happy?
I just typed the term how to be happy into Google and got 7,040,000,000 results, all in an astonishing 0.43 seconds I might add.
Suffice to say I then typed into Google the term how to be contented. Compared to the above number of results for that search, this research returned with a mere 18,100,000.
I understand research and the importance of it and am able to differentiate between good, robust evidence and flimsy, poorly undertaken research.
So although my above experiment was somewhat rudimentary, to say the least, what it does inform us is that 7,021, 900,000 more people are searching on Google how to be happy compared to how to be contented.
So as a society are we actually aiming too high? And if so why? Is it that we are unable to differentiate between happiness and contentment or is it that we would all prefer to be happy instead of contented?
I’ve reflected on this debate whilst writing. And I’ve looked back over my life to consider the above question I myself have put forward.
I am almost 45 years of age. I undertook several years of traveling in my early twenties. I am now a psychiatric nurse. Prior to becoming a nurse I had a ten-year career in IT in the financial heart of London. I am divorced. I have three children. My life, like many others, has had its fair share of ups and downs.
I would love to be permanently happy. Who wouldn’t? However, I have come to learn from life, being permanently happy is not possible. Whenever I have strived for happiness I have failed. I know many others that have tried and got the same result.
I have never met anyone that is genuinely happy all of the time. It is simply unsustainable. I have of course met plenty of people that make claims to be happy all of the time. Did I believe them? No, I didn’t.
I would argue there is an obvious price to be paid for constant happiness, even if it was possible.
It is life’s stressors, dramas, pain and heartbreak that makes us who we are.
How would we become mentally resilient to such knock-backs? How would we learn about life? How would we learn from our mistakes?
Contentment, on the other hand, is different. I once had a friend that during an argument informed me “you have low expectations of life, you’ll end up not making anything of your life!”
With the above comment aside by my friend, I would argue that striving for contentment is more plausible and realistic.
From my own experience, I get more benefit from the longer lasting deeper feeling of contentment, compared to the instant, yet short-lived hit of happiness.
I enjoy the sense of purpose I get from contentment. I also enjoy, some, not all, of life’s challenges. Happiness would not allow for such challenges.
So in answer to my original question, I will stick with contentment.
“Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.” Pearl S. Black