Being Happy and Content

“The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.” –William Lyon Phelps

Sometimes I question whether or not others view me as a happy person. The end of the day rolls around, I am alone in my apartment reading a book and getting ready for bed, and I stop and think about who I am, what I’m doing and whether or not I am happy and content with my life. The more I think about things, the more I decide I’m somewhat happy and definitely not content. I am working toward the goals I have personally and professional, I am surrounded by amazing friends and family, and I continue making plans to do the things and see the places I really want to do and see.  But I’m not there yet.

I don’t know that I’m the kind of person who can achieve a feeling of being content, though. There is just too much out there I want to experience to ever think ok, that’s enough for me. Right or wrong, I’m the kind of person who likes to feel like they are accomplishing something. I’m not content to just sit around. I need to be doing. I find it hard to sit still.

I think this quote is an interesting and somewhat accurate take on what defines a ‘happy’ person. I would agree that the things that bring me the most happiness follow those listed by the author: music, books, company and conversation, although I would replace art with travel. I try to surround myself with others who think interesting thoughts, and I think that is one of the reasons I love to travel. I’m always meeting new people with different takes on life, and drawing on those experiences does make life interesting. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were sitting around my flat at the University of Ulster debating British political strategy or arguing in my dorm room at Kent State about the origin of everyday words or listening in the Saladin Citadel in Cairo to a simplified history of the Sunni and Shia. All the possible elements that could make something interesting– music, books, art, history, travel, conversation– lend themselves to my happiness.

So in that light I consider myself to be happy. But happiness is not one in the same as contentment. I am not content.

But as I searched for quotes about being content, I found that I disagreed with most if not all of them. I was having trouble finding a quote that said it was ok to not be content. Instead, most pointed out a dissatisfaction with oneself, one’s belongings, life, etc., or a need to constantly have more all lead to feelings of discontent, and no one should want to be categorized as someone who can’t be happy with what they have.

I disagree in the sense that being happy with what you have and being content with what you have are two different things. At some point I think many people find some happiness in and from what they have without constantly desiring more. But why should anyone be made to feel that in addition to being happy, those things should make you content?

There are a number of people throughout history that I’m quite glad were not content. Aristotle, Columbus, Franklin, Jefferson, Edison, Einstein to name a few. These individuals may or may not have been happy, but they were certainly not content. Thank goodness.

So I am going to derive happiness from the things I love but not be content to just sit back and enjoy those things without wondering if there isn’t more that might add to my happiness if I just knew it were out there on the horizon. I’m going to be content with not being content.

I am also going to go back to looking up less thought-inducing quotes.

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