Happiness vs. contentment

I’ve just finished my interview with Bob Pessemier for As We Get Older. He will now edit our conversation. I’ll announce the link to the podcast as soon as it’s ready. I absolutely refuse to do so until he sends it to me.

This was the first time I’ve been interviewed, anywhere, without a list of prepared questions-and-answers, and used my equanimity tools to feel calm:

  • “Of course it’ll be OK. It’s just a chat about stuff I know well.”
  • “So? If I stuff up (Australian for “make a mess of it”), it’s probably not fatal, and if it kills me, that’s all right too.”
  • ”If I make any mistakes, they’ll be learning experiences.”
  • ”This is no different from Table Topics in Toastmasters.”

In the event, it was an enjoyable experience that left me feeling good. And, further in the spirit of positive psychology, that’s a resource for the future: next time I need to ad lib, I’ll remember how well this one went.

Bob asked several thought-provoking questions, and I’ll be interested in hearing my answers. Hopefully, I’ll learn something from them. One thing I was required to discuss was the difference between happiness and contentment.

Suppose a desperately lonely, unhappy, shy young fellow goes to a nightclub. He fills himself with alcoholic false courage, and perhaps a few little illegal pills, and finds a girl to go home with for a one-night stand.

In the morning, they discover that they have nothing in common, and neither is interested in continuing a relationship. He would never have had anything to do with her, except for the fogging glasses of alcohol. And he now has a hangover.

His happiness climbed from 2/10 to 9/10, then back to 1.

His contentment stayed at 2/10. Even while enjoying the moment, inside, unacknowledged, he knew it was only a temporary blip, and the misery was sure to return.

Here is a contrasting example. For the couple of years before my first hip replacement in 2013, I was in constant pain, which gradually increased. When I finally had the sense to get an X-ray, I saw that a stalactite had grown in there, pushing the head of femur out. All the same, on a typical working day, I saw 8 clients for 1-hour sessions, with 15 minutes in between, and made a home visit afterward. I had Panadeine Forte with me — but rarely bothered to take it. Instead, I used the mindfulness pain management tools developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and focused all my attention on my clients’ needs.

Was I happy about the pain? No, of course not. Was I content with my situation? Yes.


About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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1 Response to Happiness vs. contentment

  1. Mark Ward says:

    I think Buddha covered the young man’s scenario with the concept of dissatisfaction and impermanence. He expected more and the happiness ebbed. A Stoic might say he sought happiness from externals, while happiness/contentment is within what you control 🙂 https://markward.today/the-greatest-delusion/


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