Over the past handful of years, I have been talking and reveling a lot about the science of happiness, and my happiness from having learned that science through courses at Yale and Berkeley online. I do this enough that there’s even a header menu choice for “happiness” on my blog, even though there’s not a huge number of posts under it. That’s how much I value trying to catch people’s attention with it to share it with them! For all of its value and my intent, though, I find that talking about the science and pursuit of happiness in life occasionally rubs people the wrong way, or lead them to think I’m really misguided since I’d never be happy if I’m always chasing something I can’t get, right? Yes, except that I’m really working to maintain as much of something as I can, though that wasn’t quite right, either. I am not trying to be ecstatic or even perky sort of happy throughout most of my days, which is not what the courses taught, either. I am just pursuing a general feeling of bliss throughout as much for as many of my days as possible, and minimizing stresses and/or things that get me down, stressful or not. But how to properly explain that? Well, recently, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley which had taught me the Science of Happiness course came to the rescue. Contentment, was the word I was seeking and meaning to use, not happiness, and it makes a huge world of difference!
Contentment, as defined in the article, and in general, is the knowledge that things are OK exactly as they are in the moment, and it is highly valued by many cultures. The moment I read that definition, without reading the rest of the article, I knew I had found what I had been seeking. Contentment is what I am pursuing in life. I’m not trying to find things to keep me feeling spritely all day, jump and click my heels, with a big grin on my face. No. Nor did the courses I took on the science of happiness ever taught that. I’m just constantly trying to pursue a life where as few things in my world, and/or the world, would cause me to have to take actions I don’t want, or not be happy about not being able to do anything, about something I am not liking the state of… or where I foresee it might be going. There’s not a big desire to constantly find new highs in life, big things to brag about, or any of that stuff. No. It’s a very zen sort of happy. All that, to a T, or three Ts more precisely, in what the article defined as conTenTmenT. That’s what I am pursuing. And I feel with this slight change in description, I’m going to have much better conversations on the matter with people in the future. I might even remove “happiness” from those conversations!
To prove this is not mere diction, or just some linguistic change to mitigate the reactions of others, though, let me describe how different I would be faring if I were to rate my success in the pursuit of happiness versus contentment. For happiness, I would be failing miserably. There are many little things I get mildly excited about in my life, but a lot of it is due to gratefulness and gratitude to appreciate all these little things, and curiosity to learn and create new things that is basically me being happy as a product of being able to express my Signature Strengths. Those Strengths would be creativity, curiosity, hope, honesty, and so on, that are my personal results, and the key to the VIA Character Assessment’s theory to well-being that is more a good state of mind than ecstasy sort of happiness. Indeed, for all the little joys I get from my life, I don’t think very many people would want to live it. I don’t buy myself much or treat myself much to anything, never mind anything big, having spent the lowest percentage of my income annually in each of the past three years, and this one looking like a fourth. I have no TV or similar simple joys many look forward to in their lives. I hardly go anywhere social like dine out, not having gone since work Christmas lunch in 2019, and certainly no travel with COVID restrictions and without a car I live without by choice. I don’t have family near. Close friends don’t really exist, nor do many other friends as I was starting to revamp my social circles before the pandemic hit, so I train with some friends outdoors and see some colleagues at work, but that’s been about it for over a year now. I don’t have meaningful conversations with people about one day a week, and two days out of five if you don’t count my colleagues. I’ve barely had any physical contact with humans in about a year and a half, even! Really, do you think anybody envies my “happy” life even if I am generally quite happy about all the little things I have going?
On the other hand, with contentment, I often go around joking not so seriously that the only stress I usually have in my life is the stress I create for myself with deadlines like for writing competitions, or quality I want out of my entries, high mileage weeks, certain times I want to run during intervals and time trials, etc. I joke almost as if to brag, but there’s no real joke about it. It’s the absolute truth! Life is quite lovely and fine, and for all those things I listed that others might not want in their lives, everything is pretty much OK as they are! Where some things ultimately end up that I may not like, it’s like so what? Big deal. Or rather, more appropriately, no big deal. Just move along to the next little joy. In that sense, I could even argue I have both, happiness and contentment in my life! But I’m not going around touting that, cause if some people weren’t taking well to all my happiness talk, piling on contentment would simply be rubbing it in.