Our conventional way of looking at psychological health or happiness is typically a fiction. We are animals and like all other animals, we want what we want, we’re upset when we don’t get what we want, we want to avoid what we don’t like, and we become upset when we have to deal with something that we don’t like. This is a long-winded way of saying that we’re happy when good things happen and unhappy when bad things happen. The problem with this in-born tendency is that it’s a losing battle. No matter which way we go, we’re going to eventually experience the opposite. This is true regardless of how much money we have. So what’s left?
What’s left is an imperfect life that flows naturally over time. It shifts, changes course, and shocks us turn after turn; regardless of our wants or needs. Life does not care about our wants and needs, and we’re very fortunate if we’re surrounded by people who attend to these in healthy ways. No matter how hard we try, life will always disappoint us, and obstacles will be plentiful as we strive to achieve our goals. This is life, this is our existence, and this is the world as it will always be. To experience ongoing contentment, we need to embrace the truth of our existence.
The word “contentment” is used instead of “happiness” because the latter is typically defined, by many, as something that’s just unrealistic. Happiness is momentary, like joy. It’s a reaction to something that brings about elation or excitement. Its fire burns hotter, quicker, and it extinguishes itself quickly. Contentment, on the other hand, is strong, indestructible, and it’s present regardless of the situation. Contentment is powerful, steady, perfectly cool yet slightly warming, refreshing, alive, light, but deeply satisfying. This kind of happiness, this contentment, is possible for everyone but it takes time and some effort.
In order to arrive at this contentment, we need to realize the inevitable imperfection of the world and ourselves, as they are. We can have goals, wishes, desires, and preferences, but our contentment is not determined by or dependent upon these. Instead, our contentment is simply based upon being here in this world and living openly until we’re dead. We’ll experience pain, hardship, surprise, excitement, fortune, loss, gain, and everything else that’s possible in life, but our contentment will be the foundation that never leaves us. Contentment is found by accepting things the way they are, and turning one’s focus inward while remaining open-hearted toward the world. This is not an idea, it’s an ongoing experience that is born out of a way of life. This way of life that takes practice, it’s not magical, and there’s no pill to help us get there.
We’re mistaken if we think that we’ll suddenly become happy or that everything will be better after reading this, or some inspirational book. This is a pretty fantasy and a nice wish, but it’s not our reality. The way of life that supports contentment is a reflective and simple one. This life is connected to the world, to all things natural, and it humbly acknowledges it’s faults and shortcomings while always reflecting upon how it can improve. It’s grounded, generous, flexible but stable, and it has a deep sense of purpose, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a great deal of humor because the contented life sees the folly in taking the inevitable too seriously. But it sees things as they are, and there’s no denial of the infinite number of subtle facets to each person, situation and moment. It’s not attached to good and in denial of bad. It just looks toward what’s healthy. All of this together…that is it.
How we arrive at this way of life and what it looks like for each person is complex and unique. And it does not come in a couple of weeks. While none of us want to work at this, we must. The wonderful thing is that we can do it together and in that, we can find a great deal of comfort and relief because we’re all in the same boat.