Happiness or Contentment?

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By Dr. Nero Cavaliere

Viktor E. Frankl, the famous psychiatrist who managed to survive three years in Nazi Concentration camps after losing his entire family, except his sister, once said “…happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy’. Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.” Frankl said that we shouldn’t seek happiness for its own sake but rather search for a reason to become happy by discovering the potential meaning inherent and dormant in a given situation. In short, by discovering the meaning of our life.
The term “happiness” is fraught with ambiguity. It is difficult to describe because we tend to use it to refer to a positive state of well-being we are currently experiencing, or expect to experience, rather than to universal feelings of well-being. Webster defines happiness as being delighted, pleased or glad, as over a particular thing. When we attain, achieve, or receive something that pleases us we experience the emotion we identify as happiness. The problem is that these moments of happiness are short lived. Once the novelty of the experience is over we are back to square one, looking about us for our next moment of happiness. It’s like the elusiveness of the butterfly flitting from flower to flower. We buy the car of our dreams and we are ecstatic, only to discover that next year’s model is even better and would really make us happier than the one we have in our garage. Or, we get that promotion with our own office and, after a few weeks or months we realize that we are spending more time at the office because we are swamped with more work and more responsibility. Then, one day we ask ourselves “Can I ever really be truly happy?” Maybe, what we should be searching for instead of happiness is the contentment of knowing our life has meaning.
Contentment is being satisfied with what one is or has, and not wanting more or anything else just for the pleasure of having it. Our society tends to believe that life must be filled with joyful moments in order to be happy, rather than thinking of life in terms of serenity, which contentment implies. The quest for happiness will always allude us because once we have what we think we want, we find it doesn’t last long. It’s transitory. It fills but a moment or two of our lives while contentment can bring us true peace and tranquility. But, how do we find contentment? By discovering a- meaning of our life which transcends self-centeredness and narcissism. One way to do this is through sharing our gifts with others. As Albert Einstein said “Only a life lived for others is the life worthwhile”.