Given the formidable obstacles to chasing after happiness or promoting its sustainability if we are lucky enough to come by it, what options do human beings have? I have not come across any meaningful approach to this question, even from the unswervingly confident proponents of the contemporary school of positive psychology.
So, I espouse the following: given that we have the means to distinguish between happiness and contentment, we can examine how they differ and, in so doing, identify an alternative to the futile pursuit of happiness.
Happiness, derived from the Norse word hap, means luck or chance; the phrase happy-go-lucky illustrates the association. Many Indo-European languages similarly conflate the feeling of happiness and luck. Glück in German, for instance, can be translated as either happiness or chance, while eftihia , the Greek word for happiness, is derived from ef, meaning good, and tixi , luck or chance.
Thus, a mother may have the good fortune to feel ecstatic when responding to her infant’s playfulness, only to see it evaporate a couple of years later and be replaced by the initial features of autism. In the story we started this article with, Jennifer may have persevered had her baby slept peacefully and not been assailed by colicky pain in her first few weeks of life.
Contentment is derived from the Latin contentus and usually translated as satisfied. No multiple meanings here to confuse us. In my view, feeling content refers to a deep-seated, abiding acceptance of one’s self and one’s worth together with a sense of self-fulfillment, meaning and purpose.
And, most critically, these assets are valued and nurtured whatever the circumstances, or even especially when they are distressing or depressing.