The Nature of Contentment
There has been so much written about happiness and contentment lately. You would think that everyone has lost the ability to be happy or content. How could this be? It seems an entire industry has sprouted up with the express purpose of returning happiness and contentment to the masses. It is amazing to me that our culture has cultivated a belief system that we are basically unhappy and need to be shown how to be happy and content. It is the same across so many domains of human experience. I guess the business model is based on convincing as many people as possible that they do not have some “thing” important, like happiness or contentment, and then to develop “products” that will provide a solution to the lacking “thing”.
This approach is based on a notion that in order to have contentment or happiness it is necessary to remove the things that create the unhappiness or discontent in our lives. Can anyone imagine a life where there is no unhappiness or discontentment? Can anyone imagine that a life with unhappiness and discontentment that is devoid of all happiness and contentment? In other words, don’t we realize that to have one you need to have the other? In a Buddhist context, as long as we strive for one state or another we will suffer due to the changing nature of our reality. We can never be completely happy and content, nor will we be completely unhappy and discontent.
The pups in this week’s picture are the poster children for contentment. All it takes is a run on the beach and a quick dip in the ocean. For them it is that simple. And for us, we seem to want to make it so much more complicated than it needs to be. One of the main reasons I think it is so complicated for human beings is that we are so susceptible to the influence that we are bombarded with each and every second of our waking lives. Influence in the form of media messaging. Influence in the form of comparing ourselves to everyone else. Influence in the form of inner messages that we tell ourselves about how we lack “things”.
The notion that “things” will produce happiness and contentment is so deeply ingrained in our culture. In order for us to transcend beyond this model of thinking, it will require considerable self awareness and the motivation to evolve to a new perspective that is actually a return to the more simple and basic relationships that were common in eras gone by. We have so many examples of indigenous cultures that are extremely happy and content and the “things” that they have are really very simple and are provided naturally from the environment. Of course it is not practical to think that we all can return to the aboriginal state and toss off the yolk of modern civilization. There are some very important lessons that we can take away from observations of these ancient cultures.
For one, an intimate relationship with the natural world is a powerful source of happiness and contentment. This relationship is based on the realization that we are part of the natural order and have a meaning and purpose within its structure. We are not dominant to the natural world and we are not here to possess or control nature. This is a very different view than what has become the norm in the current belief systems of many “civilized” people on our planet. As we begin to realize a healthy relationship to nature, we will see the source of much discontent begin to dwindle in our lives.
Another thought is that we are very willing to let other’s opinions influence our own thinking. It may be easier to let someone else do the heavy lifting when it comes to forming an educated opinion about something; yet in doing so we lose the mental muscle that is required to make this kind of determination for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with looking to “experts” for carefully reasoned information that we can consider in our decision making process. It becomes a process of disenfranchisement when we decide based on the current trend and do not take the time to think things through for ourselves. Please do not take this as a criticism. It is an observation of a stream in our culture that I think contributes to the sense of lack that produces discontentment and unhappiness.
Think about it. If you or I do not practice making decisions based on a carefully reasoned inner process and simply follow the trend, we may follow right of the edge of a cliff. When we see so much media broadcasting about where to go, what to buy, which TV show is the best, which YouTube video is viral, and so on, we rush to choose in order to be “in” the wave. We often feel better when we have the perception of being “in” versus being “out” of the norm. There is a cultural pressure to conform and it is difficult to push back against this pressure.
I am proposing that if we do not learn to push back against this pressure with carefully reasoned decision making we are at risk of choosing behavior and a worldview that is not conducive to happiness or contentment or wellness overall. There are so many examples of trends that are not going to produce true happiness or contentment. One of the most devastating examples in the past several years was the housing bubble. Everyone was given the message that not only they needed to own their own home for happiness and contentment, they were given the means to do so, in spite of the lack of sustainability in that method. The real estate and mortgage industry did not want us to use carefully reasoned decision making, they just wanted to get their percentage regardless of whether anyone would be able to pay the mortgage through the life of the loan. This is just one of the many examples of how we are susceptible to the influence I mention.
Back to the puppies in the picture. They do not need anyone to tell them that it feels good to run on the beach and swim in the ocean. It is in their DNA. They have the benefit of not being distracted by all the cultural baggage and social influence that human beings are bombarded by. So what is the message? Learn how to diminish the social influence and cultural baggage and listen to the natural messages that are there and are just buried underneath all of the layers that have been piled on top. I am not suggesting that we disregard every social norm and cultural more. Many of these are very useful for keeping some of our most primitive motivations in check. We need to distinguish between choosing behavior that is beneficial to our happiness and contentment, and behavior that is simply a blind following of trends that lead us over the edge of so many metaphorical cliffs.
Wellness is balance. Wellness is moderation. Wellness is consciousness. Wellness is self awareness. In order to maintain balance and moderation we need to practice consciousness expansion and promote self awareness. We cannot be successful in any of this practice as long as we let the pressures of social influence drive us down paths not of our own choosing. Learn and grow! Slow down and make decisions based on who you are, not on who you think you should be in order to be “in”. I think happiness and contentment will follow with no added “things” other than your stepping into your own life.
Thanks again for taking the time to read my weekly post. Please let me know if any of these thoughts have given you something to think about. I enjoy hearing your comments and I do learn new things from all of you.
Visit Dr. Marco Zolow’s website.