Wednesday, January 19

Contentment Defined

Happiness <---> Unhappiness

As I alluded to in my last post on the subject, the above sliding scale is wrong. By this I mean, ineffective, counterproductive, and unlikely to make anyone anything other than ticking time bombs of self-destruction. For if you are not happy, then you must be unhappy, and since there are so few moments in your life when you are happy, then you must be unhappy the rest of the time.

Remember, I'm using these definitions:

Happiness = Pleasure + Triumph
Unhappiness = Pain + Grief

My prediction for everyone on the planet (and if I can't make that assumption, which is a fair objection, then I can at least make it for myself) is that there are relatively a few moments in our day to day lives where we are feeling true pleasure or triumph. So if you aren't happy, then by all accounts, if you only use the happiness/unhappiness scale, then you must be unhappy. You might not feel it, you might be doing your daily routines, wondering what is wrong with your life, your job, your kids, your hobbies, yourself: why you don't feel happy, and if that means you really are unhappy, underneath it all.

I propose that your life is not wrong, and that you are just fine, because your spectrum should look like this:

Happiness <---> CONTENTMENT <---> Unhappiness

I have put the middle term in all caps, because 90% of your life is smack dab in the middle. You are only up in the clouds 5% of the time, and you are only down in the dirt 5% of the time. The rest of your life is in that middle ground, where everything tastes like water, where you aren't too hot, aren't too cold, where you might not get what you want, but you might just get what you need.

Once you reorient yourself, once you stop seeking out the fleeting wisps of happiness, or rolling with the hard knocks, then you can perceive that who you are, no matter what you do, is an invisible path. Your life is the intangible middle ground. You will not remember it tomorrow, and you will not notice it all around you, until you stop, and pay attention to your contentment.

What is contentment? Well, let's define it further:

Physical Contentment = Flow

What is this? Flow? That sounds dumb. And yet, when an athlete is acting and reacting, without thought of failure, when they move like water, when they flow, then they are truly content. They are in the zone. When you are brushing your teeth, or vacuuming your carpet, or cleaning your toilet, or driving, or eating, or watching your kids play, or whatever concrete action you are doing when your life is moving on and on and on into the future, you are flowing with it and around it and through it, without thought, with and without effort, and you are water. Your life is mostly flow. It goes on, and you only notice the rapids and rocks in the river, while you ignore the river itself.

Abstract Contentment = Meditation

Huh? So we are all monks now? Do we have to sit cross-legged and chant "oooom?" If it helps you, sure, but I'm talking more the general use of the term, where your brain is occupied, but neither filled with triumph or grief. This is the place where daydreams go, or where you might think about the task at hand, or you might not be thinking at all. Your brain might be in idle, or it might be supercharged, working on your doctorate thesis. The key thing to notice here, is that we are talking about your day to day thoughts, combined with where your brain is when it is not thinking at all.

So where do we go from here? Now that we have a framework for contentment, we can notice it, and strive for it. We do not need to buy that car, or fuck that person, or wallow in our misery. Our goals can be a sustainable self, with contentment as our goal, and while the ups and downs of happiness and unhappiness might frame our lives, we are secure in the knowledge that we are content, and that everything is just fine after all.

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