We often use the terms happiness and contentment as more or less interchangeable. While they both have to do with feeling happy, there is a difference between the two and there are reasons to strive for contentment vs. happiness in the big scheme of things. Let’s take a look at the two terms, what they mean, and most importantly on what sets them apart from each other.
What Is Happiness?
We all know what happiness feels like. In fact, when you look up the definition, it is the act of feeling happy. It is that giddy feeling in your stomach that puts a smile on your face. Happiness is a bubble, active feeling that comes and goes in waves or spikes. We don’t feel happy all the time and that’s ok.
Without times of indifference, and even sadness, we wouldn’t be able to recognize happiness and feel it as deeply as we do.
What Is Contentment
Contentment on the other hand is a steady feeling that’s a little different from being happy. While we also don’t feel content all the time, it’s something that last longer. It’s a steady feeling instead of a spike of emotion.
When we say we want to increase the happiness in our lives, what we really mean is that we want to feel more content. We aren’t looking for those big moments of excitement and laughs. What we want is to feel positive, content, and comfortable for long stretches at a time. That’s what we really mean when we wish for a long and happy life.
“When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.” – Dalai Lama
What’s Sets The Two Apart?
Happiness and contentment work together but they aren’t the same emotion. Think of happiness as something similar to falling in love. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s a very strong emotion. Contentment is more like a good, long marriage. There are little ups and downs, but overall things are comfortable and we’re happy in the relationship. The initial excitement wears off with time, but it’s replaced by something steady, comfortable, and very positive in its own right.
To live a happy and fulfilled life, we need happiness and more importantly contentment. Increasing contentment then is the name of the game. It’s not as fleeting as happiness, yet we need to start with increasing how often we feel happy to fuel our contentment.
What can you do today that would bring joy and happiness into your life? How can you then extend that into a feeling of contentment? Maybe it’s decluttering your home to have a more inviting space to come home to. Maybe it’s working on a relationship and rekindling the passion. Maybe it’s making a change in your career that gives you more work that feels fulfilling. Find the things that bring you happiness and contentment and go after them.
It’s perfectly fine to focus on happiness. It’s easier to define and grasp. It’s also easier to notice than a small increase in contentment. Thankfully focusing on more happy moments in our lives also increases our overall contentment. The same people and things that make us happy also make us content.
“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” – Buddha