What is Contentment?


In a recent discussion with a friend, I was attempting to articulate that I believe what we say brings us contentment, joy, or satisfaction in life, is often not what we spend our energy, time, and money to get. An example–If I say my family and friends are what is most important in my life, and yet I only spend one or two percent of my time engaged with them, then maybe my statement about their importance is not completely accurate. Before anyone gets up in arms and says, “but my life is busy, or I have to make money, work, pay bills, etc., I understand life can be busy, and we all have actual obligations to attend to. I do not disagree that life is hectic at times, but I would also add that there are times that are not hectic, that we have the leisure to decide what we can and what we want to do.

I am not judging or suggesting what anyone should do. My point is that each individual might consider what in life is most important to them, what makes life worthwhile and significant to them, and when they know what that is, then pursue it with passion and determination.

In the wonderful Mary Oliver poem The Summer Day, she ends the poem with these words–Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Stop for a moment and attempt to answer Mary’s question. Do you have an answer? Are you living the life that your answer is? If you don’t know the answer, is that OK with you? If you know the answer, and you’re not heeding it, what do you need to change in your life?

Many of us live lives of if only. If only I had a million dollars, I’d relax and take it easy. If only my husband, or my wife didn’t have so much for me to do, I’d have time to write–play golf–volunteer. If only I had that new Corvette, I’d be happy. If only – if only.

I think Mary Oliver was right. We have only one wild and precious life to live, and what we do with it helps determine our satisfaction and contentment with life. There is nothing wrong with having nice stuff but thinking it will make you content or fulfilled is a losing game. There is always more to buy. The old bumper sticker that said He who dies with the most toys, wins, was satire, not wise council.

I’m reading a good book by Christina Feldman–The Buddhist Path to Simplicity. There is a great buzz about minimalism these days. If we just have less stuff, life will be more simple, and easier. Feldman contends our having fewer possessions can make life less cluttered, but it is not quite that easy to live a more simple life. She writes that maintaining a simple and therefore a more full or fulfilling life is more about what is in our heads and less about what’s in our overstuffed closets. Contentment with enough is far different and much easier to maintain than always seeking more things and worrying about losing what we have. Letting go of attachments is a key idea of Buddhism.

So to my initial point, do you know what brings contentment, meaning, satisfaction, and genuine joy to your life, and how much of your energy, time and money resources are going to that end? What do you need to do in order to make yours A LIFE WELL LIVED?

Two quotes on contentment.

Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”

                                                                               Pearl S. Buck

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.”

                                                              Walt Whitman

I was 16 and sitting behind that used Ludwig gold-sparkle drum kit and playing music with my best friends was PURE CONTENTMENT!

One thought on “What is Contentment?

  1. David, you again hit it right on! What is it that makes life worth living? AND why are we not doing the stuff that makes life worth living? Life’s major transition stages: birth of a child, change of jobs, retirement, moving, marriage, divorce,… these are pivotal points when we are forced to change. We would be wise to take stock and decide how we want to live our wild and precious life on a daily, or monthly, or at least yearly basis. This is why I visit my grandson so often, I don’t want to miss his wild and precious life even if I miss mine.


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