Happiness seems to be the buzz word du jour, but are we striving for happiness at the cost of contentment? I honestly think we are.
Search online for books about Happiness and you’ll be presented with over 60,000 options, SIXTY THOUSAND options. That’s how keen we are to find the elusive happiness, but in reality I think we’re spending so much time focusing on something that in all honesty isn’t tangible to the determent of contentment. The pursuit of happiness is one of the major foundations of modern life, statistics are discussed on prime time shows, books are published, articles written and podcasts recorded.
The definition of Happy is “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.”
However contentment is constantly seen as not being enough, to live a content life is surely a privilege, yet we spend money and time striving for more, more, more in an attempt to reach the pinnacle of ‘happiness’. We’ve been led to believe that we deserve to feel happiness, and that a purely happy life is achievable by various avenues, which is simply not true.
We all want to experience happiness, at all costs. In our mind, away from reality, happiness is a lush oasis in a dry desert. There is no proof it’s real, however we strive for it nonetheless. Happiness as it turns out is not quite what it seems.
There seems to be this thought that if we’re not happy then there’s something wrong with us, that if we settle into life and just take it as it comes then we aren’t doing life right. Our feelings in fact should be treated like the weather, planned for and expected to be unexpected, they are changeable, it’s as normal to feel unhappy as it is to see rain clouds. A concept that British-born Australian doctor and author of The Happiness Trap Russ Harris talks about in depth, he argues that popular wisdom on happiness is misleading and destined to make you miserable and I couldn’t agree more.
I hear people time and time again agonising over anxiety and feeling dissatisfied by their own dissatisfaction, what a torturous life to live. “Painful emotions are increasingly seen as unnatural and abnormal and we refuse to accept that we can’t always get what we want. This sets you up for a struggle with reality, because the things that make life rich and full — developing a meaningful career, or building an intimate relationship, or raising children — do not just give you good feelings, they also give you plenty of pain.”
In fact we, as humans, have evolved to cope with discomfort. We’re pre-programmed to think negative thoughts and to feel uncomfortable emotions, we’re programmed this way thanks to living a life many years ago where we had to keep an eye out for threats that might eat us! Striving to survive and not be eaten, means we got very comfortable being obsessed with danger and rejection in every moment. Fast forward to modern day, and although in most instances we are not keeping an eye out for threat of life, we do have to deal with rejection and our ancestral development helps us to handle that.
That fear you feel when you do something new, or when you fail your first few attempts at something triggers a message that says ‘you’re not good enough’ that’s just a way of life, part of the human condition. These feelings we perceive to be unhappiness, which simply isn’t the case, despite the number of books we read, podcasts we listen to, therapy we seek, we still feel dysfunctional because we are striving for happiness at the cost of contentment.
Contentment is a state that most people sit within naturally. Contentment is the feeling you have when you realise at the end of the day that it’s been a good day, not for any great achievement or moments, but because
By striving for happiness all the time we are pushing contentment to the sidelines as though it is the ugly stepchild to happiness, and by doing that we are doing ourselves such a disservice.