It is only contentment, but it sweats you out before you’re allowed to make acquaintance.
There’s a good chance that we might never have required religions if people believed contentment was easy to get. In desperation, man must have thought it an exclusively providential achievement, and went on to devote his energy towards an unseen entity expected to be powerful enough to help him attain it. In other words, most have given up contentment as a cause that cannot be accomplished without divine enlightenment. Fools.
And yet, if it was easy, capitalism would have been long extinct.
Contentment, however, cannot just be satisfaction. It is so much more than a mere full stomach or wallet. It is the emotional fortress that assures that even if there isn’t a full stomach or a full wallet, life’s still good. How does one achieve that depth? Height, even? Like numerous droplets joining to form a big, heavy one, small happinesses will perhaps form a pithy one heavy enough to fall, and drench parched surfaces. I do not know. It does seem logical, though, that happiness of the deepest sort will guarantee contentment of that calibre. But why is it so complicated?
Interestingly, like all complicated things, contentment can be looked at from many perspectives. From one, you tend to think that contentment leads to inertia and stagnation. If you’re really satisfied, why strive towards a higher plain? From another, if you’re contented, your life is without an itch. Nothing to scratch, no meat to give to psychologists and self-help gurus. Guaranteed nirvana.
The real trouble is when you do not have a firm footing in either — when you believe that contentment would be a nice little cosy nook to sit in and munch your favourite sandwich, but you keep slipping off the floor. My trouble with contentment is that it is too enticing to ignore, even as it is too murky to strive for. If happiness could be absolute, would there be any need for ambition? If there is no ambition, where is the colour in living?
Even though one is tempted to equate contentment with deep happiness, it is probably best to not do so. For if they were, indeed, interchangeable then perhaps there wouldn’t be any need to live, hope, expect, aim at. “You might be satisfied with this painting you’ve painted today, but don’t make the mistake of feeling contented.” There have been numerous such small instances in which my mother, in her own way, tried to differentiate between the two — satisfaction and contentment. I like her definition. When you’re satisfied, it is a momentary exhilaration, willing to give way to more exploration. If you’re contented, you’ve arrived. The choice is yours — you want satisfaction from a particular task, or do you wish for contentment in it? Where does happiness come here, really? At a glance, it seems it figures in in both the cases. Happiness is an emotion that cannot be ousted from any state of being, really. (Unless you’re really adamant about it. But that’s another discussion.) If you look deeper, you realise that an existence in which there is no rush for anything, in which time and place and state of being do not matter, does really offer a better possibility of making you happy. If a certain conditions are met, of course. The presence of a person, an object, a status. Or so we think.
What is even more mind-boggling is that just the opposite could be stated for the relationship between satisfaction and contentment. “You might want to be contented with your life, but don’t make the mistake of feeling satisfied with what you do in it.” Seek more. Reach higher.
And so the murkiness grows.
In the translated version of the Tao Teh Ching I have, there is an alarmingly spartan advice to achieve a non-chaotic life:
By not exalting the talented you will cause the people to cease from rivalry and contention.
By not prizing goods hard to get, you will cause the people to cease from robbing and stealing.
By not displaying what is desirable, you will cause the people’s hearts to remain undisturbed.
Therefore, the Sage’s way of governing begins by
Emptying the heart of desires,
Filling the belly with food,
Weakening the ambitions,
Toughening the bones.
In this way he will cause the people to remain without knowledge and without desire, and prevent the knowing ones from any ado.
Practice Non-Ado, and everything will be in order.
It never was easy, was it?