Jul 3, 2008

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The Happiness of Being Content

           Some time ago a friend of mine asked me a question that haunted me for the longest time.  We were walking along the beach in Santa Barbara, California when he asked “Are you happy or content?”  At first I found it inconceivable that I could be anything but happy while walking the beach in Santa Barbara.  So I took it as a trick question, dwelled on it a bit and came to realize that if I were being honest with myself, for the most part I was no more than content.  That of course made me immediately miserable and it took some time before I was able to feel happy about just being content.

      Let me explain.  Happiness is this sort of abstract state of mind that can really only exist in comparison to something else.  To be happy, you normally need to have recently been miserable so that you have something to gauge that happiness against.  That or some really good drugs.  In both instances though the euphoria rarely lasts.  So I have come to view happiness as artificial and very illusory. 

    Contentment on the other hand requires an answer to a pretty simple question; do I have everything I need?  Not want, but need.  If the answer is yes, I should be content.  That is unless I let the demons of need creep into my psyche and tell me that there are things I should be wanting and things that I deserve to have.  Then of course I hop on the merry-go-round of despair, thinking that I can’t be happy because there is more that I want.  Then when I get what I want, while I might be happy in the moments shortly after I get it, that is pretty fleeting.  Typically I realize that what I thought I wanted is not what I needed to make me happy.  So I then go back to being miserable until I eventually think, well if I just had…… and back on board the merry-go-round I go.

      So these days I just focus on being content.  Do I have a place to live, food to eat, a family that loves me?  Check, check, check.  Everything else is gravy.  And since I am no longer chasing happiness, every so often I am walking along the beach , may be in Santa Barbara or Maui, and there’s this sunset and a cool breeze and the thought creeps into my head, ” It is just fucking great to e alive.”  And in that moment I am very happy and certainly content.