Ever since I read Gretchen Rubin’s best-selling book, The Happiness Project, I’ve been thinking about organizing a “happiness” study group.
New year, new goals, new beginnings. Why not now? So many people are seeking it. Why is happiness so elusive?
I have a theory that we’re pursuing something that isn’t actually what we want. Happiness is temporary, momentary, unsustainable. That’s why we constantly have to keep looking for it.
Your best friend shows up unexpectedly. You’re happy. Your birthday party is today. You’re happy. Your child gets all A’s on his report card. You’re happy. Someone saves the last piece of chocolate for you. You’re happy, or maybe that’s just me. You win the lotto. You’re happy.
But for how long? A few minutes? A day? A week? Alright, if you won the lotto, you might be happy for longer than that, but eventually, even being a millionaire would be mundane.
Is it possible that we’re addicted to the pursuit of happiness when what we’re actually searching for is contentment, that state of being satisfied with ourselves and our lives?
I think there’s a difference. This is arguable and, some might contend, only semantics. However, I see contentment as a deeper, more permanent state than happiness.
I have a friend whom I’ll call “Jane.” Jane is retired and lives a simple life. She owns a modest house in a middle-class neighborhood. She has a dog. She volunteers in the community several days a week and goes to church on Sundays. She meets up with friends for lunch or the movies every week. Jane is connected, and she is satisfied with her life. I’ve long admired Jane because she is content.
From the outside, Jane’s life might appear boring, but she’s happy with what is, instead of out pursuing the “next best thing” like many of us, including Yours Truly.
How does she do that? How does one learn to be fulfilled by what they already have?
In Spanish, there are two verbs for “to be.” One is estar. The other is ser. Estar is used for things that aren’t permanent conditions. ¿Cómo estás? How are you? I’m feeling fine, but that could change any minute.
Ser is used for immutable things. I am Sally. I am a woman. I am from Texas.
There are also two words for “happy.” One is feliz. The other is contento. I asked my Spanish teacher, Vivi, if my theory holds up in Spanish, but it turns out that contento is un falso amigo for “content.”
The more permanent condition in Spanish is feliz. Contento is temporary. Pesky Spanish semantics.
Call it what you will. Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to. How do we get that profound sense of satisfaction out of what we already have?
The writer Colette might have put it best. “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”