Could it be true that happiness is a slippery, elusive, illusion – or is it actually obtainable? The very thought of trying to answer that question may makes most of us turn to the easier conclusion that happiness is not a very sustainable state of being. Sure, it may come and go; when I buy a new outfit, go on an exciting date, get a promotion, go on vacation, have a few drinks, but what happens in between? Some of us may settle for being content, but do we even understand what contentment means or how to obtain it? Do we even recognize what makes us content or rather, what brings us to a place of contentment? Some of us use alcohol or other outside substance to relax into an artificial illusion of contentment. You may want to ask yourself if your mind races or, am I often preoccupied in another place or situation that causes me concern or stress even while enveloped in my creature comforts, with my spouse, or visiting a favorite place. If so then, am I as content as I believe or tell others I am?
Perhaps, I am content because I am making enough money to pay my rent, my expenses, or go out to lunch once a week. Alternatively, I think, I would really be happy if I had enough money to own a second home, own two cars, hire a housekeeper, take all of my clothes to the dry cleaners, and get my nails and hair done weekly. However, using these examples, I am placing my feelings and emotions in the control of outside things, people, and places. In this mindset, what are the chances that I really would be happy sitting in the living room of my summerhouse in my finely pressed clothes and perfectly styled hair? The likely answer is that you would probably be writing a new list in your mind as to what you could obtain or perfect more to make you really happy or content.
The truth is that most of us use the word content to really say that we have a lot of unfulfilled expectations. Sure, we can name a handful of good times we’ve had, the raise in salary here and there, own a nice, but old,car, are in pretty good shape (even if we have to lose ten pounds – we add), have some unspent vacation time coming up, or won’t have to go to the in-laws for Thanksgiving this year. While these by themselves sound pretty good when we say them aloud, still, something seems lacking in our inner core. Can we name it, or are we fearful or ashamed?
My guess is that we find a bit of contentment in the word content, as we believe it to be a close second to true happiness. I would be happy, I wrongly believe, if all of my expectations had been fulfilled. On the other hand, I could be content if I had achieved perhaps not exactly everything I had planned to, but had come really, really close. In both cases, we are wrong. In each – the contentment scenario and the happiness scenario, I had placed the conditions of my emotions on something outside of myself. For the most part, we humans are powerless over most things, people, and places. Yet, even under the most severe of situations, we have the ability to refocus and retrain our minds, particularly in ways to help others. Reaching out and bringing a smile to other human beings, especially those closest to us, are the quickest way to achieving happiness and contentment within ourselves. The key to happiness is finding satisfaction within ourselves – in our behaviors, our thoughts, our words, and actions – knowing that we tried our best each day to be the best we could be on that day and in that particular situation or place.
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