Finding Happiness By Living with Contentment

Girl dog grand canyon“Said the man to the sun, “How I wish you could shine your light on every day of my life!”
Said the sun to the man, “But only with the rain and the night could you recognize my light.”
—Domaccan poem, translated by Chevalle

“I’m never happy”, I told my therapist.

“Never?” he questioned me. “Do you expect to feel happy all the time. Happiness is fleeting, Alan. Just as is sadness.”

At that moment in time, I felt like I had just been run over by a MAC truck. What he said to me struck a chord that I had been missing all the time I was dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression from a youth of abuse and bullying. That abuse had haunted me as C-PTSD for the last 30 years. I had not yet understood the concept of the universe trying to tell me something I needed to hear. This was truly the beginning of that listening though. As we talked more, my mind was racing with thought. I could barely hear the rest of what the therapist said to me that day, but the idea that I (maybe we) believe we should always be happy or that we always feel sad was lifted from me at that moment. Of course, this gave me something else to ruminate on. If happiness and sadness are fleeting, then what is the constant. At that time, I was trying to break the future or past think that I had developed over the years. I had already learned that there was no value in regretting the past (it can’t be changed) or worrying about the future (you can’t know what will happen and can’t predict it either).

But what of happiness and sadness. I have found, in the five years since this conversation, that many of us expect more happiness than we have in our lives. We find ourselves as glass half empty people, who want something that is not given, but we expect it anyway. I thought about this issue a long time. I studied these twisted thinking patterns and false expectations that many of us put upon ourselves and our lives. I wanted to find a way to change my thinking, so that happiness wasn’t a “never”, just a feeling that comes and goes in the natural course of a life. As the years past, I decided to study and become a life coach. It was really a move to learn to help both myself and others and I wanted to take a different approach. I wanted to make a permanent change that would allow happiness to be what it is…fleeting.

So, I thought about the concept of a lifeline. I’m sure at some time or another we all draw one in our head. It’s usually a straight line that has a beginning (Birth) and an end (Death) for these are the only guarantees we have in our life (unless you follow Ben Franklin’s assertion about Taxes. We draw a straight line and put significant points in our life on it. But wait… If we have fleeting happiness or sadness, the line isn’t straight, it goes up or down, depending on whether you are experiencing a happy time or a sad time. So what is that middle line. After much self-debate, I figured it out and gave it a name.

CONTENTMENT defines that as: “the state of being ; satisfaction; ease of mind.”

Hmmmm. I think my definition of happiness or at least satisfaction with life is really contentment. With that in mind, I started to realize the straight line of that lifeline concept is contentment. So true happiness is icing on the contentment cake. And then, when my times are tough, I realize that my work is to get back to contentment. For me, that’s a much easier concept than trying to get to the fleeting happiness. With the idea that my happiness and sadness are fleeting, leading me back to my middle or contentment, I found that I was bringing more satisfaction to my life. My overall search for happiness had landed me smack in the middle of what life really is to me…contentment.

I now have a lot of contentment in my life. I have the fleeting moments of a higher happiness or sadness, but I see these as small journeys in my life that all lead back to the middle or contentment. Doesn’t it really feel good to be content? Isn’t that an easier concept than looking for the elusive happiness or some consistent sadness, both of which will eventually get you back to contentment.

Yes, there is more thought to this idea that helps me get through my daily life. Things like the smaller stories that either bring happiness times or sadness times. I am still exploring this newfound idea of living with contentment. But I will say this. Giving up the idea that I should be happy or always feel sad has made me a more content person. As someone just told me today. To them, that sounds like I have found the joy of living. I like that.

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe. He is currently working toward his Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
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  1. I can relate to this article so well. And the irony is my friuend asked me on tne weekend what I thought Contentment was to me. I advised my friend I am in a content place now. I could have more, or less, but I am in the middle and that is what I call content. I could have new friends (I do not have many really), a newer car, a tv that does not use a set top box, but I am content.
    So after reading your article I could not believe the heading.
    On relection I now wonder if us victims of abuse and bullying, (mine was 9 years of it and it continues in a small amount today) If we find contentment easier. I am thinking I made it through this period “pretty well mentally intact” (I am affected, but not many people notice that) So now I am near the end, if contentment is really based on ten ease of the mind, looking after our mental health and not worrying about “keeping up with the Joneses” but also realising we do not want to waste away. It only takes about 6 weeks with an income to be homeless. So we have to be content with things, but continue. I do give Glory To God for being in my life for teh last 5 years out of the 10 year battle.This was a great article!

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