Happiness and Contentment

In a book I’m reading, a character described herself as happy but not contented or satisfied. Can you be happy if you’re not content? I thought happiness and contentment were pretty much the same though, though some people equate happiness with a more robust feeling than contentment, sort of like an inner effervescence that bubbles outwardly to affect those around them.

But then, what do I know. I say I’m happy, but what I really am is at peace, contented, grateful, accepting of my life. Anything more than that, at least to me, seems to be overkill. People make a lot of effort to be happy, though happiness was never my goal in life. I was more interested in reading, learning, trying to lead a meaningful life. I do enjoy the moments of effervescence, though there’s always a letdown afterward, but I don’t live for them.

Unless I’m wrong about what happiness is?

(A pause here while I look up “happiness” in an online dictionary.)

Well, that sure was productive! According to the definition I found, happiness is the state of being happy. Sheesh. So I looked up “happy.” “Happy” is defined as an enjoyable or satisfied state of being.

Now, of course, I’m more confused. Or maybe the author of that book was. Unless by “happy” the author meant being problem-free, able to get or to do whatever one wants? The character certainly had that, at least up to the point where she was killed, ostensibly for being too happy.

I don’t suppose it really matters what happiness is, how it is defined, if we pursue it or wait until it finds us. It’s something each of us knows we have.

Actually, no. That’s not true. Studies have shown that happiness is found mainly in retrospect. When someone is involved in a challenging situation that takes all their time and energy, they don’t realize until later they were happy. In fact, often while going through this “happy” situation, people think they are decidedly unhappy.

So what does it all mean? Who knows. I don’t, and that author sure didn’t. Maybe you do?


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4 Responses to “Happiness and Contentment”

  1. Estragon Says:

    To me, “happy” is different from “contented” in a sort of temporal way. For example, watching a cute kitten video may make me feel happy for a time, but after it’s over I may (still) not be contented.

    Watching kitten videos all day (or taking happy pills) might keep me “happy” for a while, but eventually discontent would overwhelm the happy. At that point, I’d have to find better kitten videos (or a bigger dose of happy pills) to stay happy. Being happy doesn’t mean being problem-free, you just forget the problems for a time. Forgetting them doesn’t solve them though. Contentment comes in the space between the problems. The ones past have either been solved, or accepted. The future ones have been prepared for, as much as such things can be.

    In your retrospective happiness scenario, I wonder if the retrospective happiness depends on the success of the struggle? Solving problems makes me happy. Failing to do so, not so much.

    In the end though, I think it’s a highly personal thing. Some people seem to be happiest being miserable. Others seem miserable being happy. A long-winded way of saying I don’t know either 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      In the case of this discussion, not knowing makes no difference in the long run. We feel what we feel, and defining it changes nothing.

      Luckily, I finished that book, so I no longer have to worry about whether the character is happy or contented.

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    I feel the usage of the word is different from English and French.
    I was little confused with your subject so I searched the origin of the word.
    In French it is something like state of joy experienced by a person. satisfaction.
    I am not sure my explanation is good enough !
    word | Origin and meaning
    of word by Online
    Etymology Dictionary

    contentment (n.)
    mid-15c., contentement, “satisfactory payment” (of a debt; a sense now obsolete), from Old French contentment, from contenter (see content (v.)). Meaning “That happiness which consists in being satisfied with present conditions” is from 1590s.
    Contentment is passive; satisfaction is active. The former is the feeling of one who does not needlessly pine after what is beyond his reach, nor fret at the hardship of his condition; the latter describes the mental condition of one who has all he desires, and feels pleasure in the contemplation of his situation. A needy man may be contented, but can hardly be satisfied. [Century Dictionary]

  3. Joe Says:

    Con-TENT, as in the feeling (versus CON-tent, as in what’s inside or what’s being offered) is, for me, always associated with “contained.” Satisfied, not needing to make waves, even passive as someone else noted above. Let’s say, “Is Pat con-TENT with her blog’s CON-tent?” 🙂

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