Why The Art of Contentment Is The Key To Happiness

Published on: May 25, 2015

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“We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.” – Immanuel Kant

All questions at the public meeting that day were about life beyond the grave. The Master only laughed and did not give a single answer.

To his disciples who demanded to know the reason for his evasiveness, he later said, “Have you observed that it is precisely those who do not know what to do with this life who want another that will last forever?”

“But is there life after death or is there not?” persisted a disciple.

“Is there life before death? — that is the question!” said the Master enigmatically.

Contentment is your trusted ambassador and revered statesmen; your emotional safeguard. Those content have a calm presence, neither striving nor resisting the currents of life.

Anthony de Mello’s epigraph invites us to consider contentment tied to living a full life. Contentment summons us to see through the illusion that life be something more than it is.

A popular expression in mainstream culture nowadays is, cultivating gratitude. Taken out of context, people seek to develop gratitude through logic and reason, instead of heartfelt sincerity. Gratitude emanates from the heart and necessitates practice and commitment to be known.

If you look for problems in untoward events, assuredly it will be there to greet you. However, if your attention is focussed on opportunity, it too will be there. So, perception accounts for everything.

It was the English essayist and poet Joseph Addison who states, “A contented mind is the greatest blessing a man can enjoy in this world.” Contentment is an inner state of composure. I liken it to a majestic tree – a stone tower, solid and unmoveable; its branches shooting out to offer shelter like an umbrella. Its roots fixed, knowing what nature intended it to be.

Contentment is sought in the smallest detail and fertilises the seeds of happiness. It is a developed state of being – we drift into contentment just as slipping into our favourite pyjamas. I find it interesting that people in third world countries are the happiest, whilst in the West we struggle to find happiness outside us unless it shines, beeps or blings.

Popular culture is built on the egoic belief we need more in order to be happy. The Zen Buddhist ideal leans towards the contrasting view – less is more. Whilst you need not wander from one extreme to the other, consider adopting aspects of the Eastern view into your life. You need not live free of Western influences, yet find a suitable middle ground.

In his book Spontaneous Happiness, Dr Andrew Weil, medical doctor and author, asserts, “A better goal in life is to be content. Contentment is an inner sense of satisfaction that is not dependant on external factors.”

“He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.” – Socrates

Contentment is to appreciate what is instead of what could be. We draw strength from the reserve of life for our current circumstances, rather than focus on what is absent.

For centuries, philosophers have debated on what it takes to be happy versus content, believing the two are mutually exclusive. Contentment is the preceding level leading to happiness and is longer lasting. We can be content having our basic needs met: a job we enjoy, a fulfilling relationship, a home to go to and a sense of security.

It is shown that pursuing your passion is a good measure of contentment. Economic studies in the US suggest the earning level at which people no longer feel happier is $75,000 USD. Consequently, money is not a measure of happiness if something is missing from our lives. Added wealth only exaggerates what is already absent, i.e. loneliness, emptiness, fear, etc.

Knowing this, how can we find contentment in our everyday experience?

Cease comparing yourself to others since each individual retains their own problems to contend with. We must embrace the richness of the present moment, standing steadfast in our commitment to the life we have. Dan Harris, ABC correspondent and Nightline anchor, states in his book, 10% Happier, “When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present.”

Similarly, slow to the pace of life. There is nowhere to get to in a hurry. Trade the rat race for the gradual speed of life. As you know, the tortoise ultimately finds its way to the finish whilst soaking in the richness of life along the way.

Let go of struggling by refusing to buy into the mental drama associated with it. There is a better way to control outcomes which rests in your hands. Life need not be one endless drama after another.

“Outside events link up with our inner thoughts and feelings, giving us a sense of participation with the universe,” state Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom in their book, The Power of Flow.

Similarly, connect with your inner wisdom. This has been a recurring theme throughout earlier articles and worth reiterating. The source of your happiness is contained within, not in an external cause. Your search will be endless and only yield further craving and desire.

Dr Weil claims society has a skewed relationship of what it means to be happy, depicted in the pursuit of happiness. In this context happiness is viewed as an external pursuit to satisfy our emotional needs, instead of that contained within.

He says, “The goal of working toward optimal emotional health is to enhance: contentment, comfort, serenity and resilience.” In this way we roll with the ups and downs of life. I believe this to be worthwhile and practical advice. Stop chasing after the elixir of happiness to the detriment of your sanity. The promised chariot of hope is unattainable if we search outside ourselves for it.

“Is there life before death?” posed the Master to his disciples.

I encourage you to find contentment in the here and now rather than seek it in the unattainable. For you have no place to get to and nothing to attain if you have not embraced the life you have.

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