The same, different, or similar?
A family group is touring our seniors’ residence: a middle-aged couple, and an elderly lady, the mother of one of them. Escorting our visitors is a staff member, the Community Relations Manager. She is leading them around, pointing out the many lovely areas we enjoy. The middle-aged couple is delighted with what they see. Their older relative looks troubled.
As I pass them, I nod and say, “Good morning.” To my surprise, the old woman turns and says, “Do you live here?”
“Yes, I’m a resident.”
“How long have you lived here?”
“Almost four years.”
“Do you like it?”
“Certainly, I’m very content.”
“But are you happy?” she says urgently.
Seeing that we are at cross-purposes, I use her terminology and reply, “Yes, I’m very happy here. It’s my home.” and walk on.
It was an interesting encounter, and has crossed my mind several times since that day. For me, “content” is a strong and emotional word, but it certainly did not satisfy this new contact. The result pushed me into some introspective searching. I then turned to my Oxford Dictionary, with these results.
Happy: A feeling of great pleasure or joy
This is a clear definition, and acceptable by all. Happiness is a quality of life, sought after by everyone. Feeling happy greatly changes my outlook on life.
Content: Being pleased with one’s situation, and seeing no need for change or for improvement
I realize that adding or making arbitrary changes to a dictionary definition is not an accepted practice, but this definition is difficult for me to accept as it stands. I need a proviso. The suggestion it makes is that if one is content, then everything in one’s life and situation is perfect. That’s just not possible. Add six words, and I’ll agree. Consider this:
Content: Being pleased with one’s situation, and seeing no need for change or improvement “to something that is beyond handling”
Now the question changes. Accepting my revised definition, how am I going to judge when something is beyond my ability to handle? I now need a realistic understanding of myself. What are my weaknesses, my strengths, my hopes, my fears? Have I made mistakes, done things I regret? This search will be familiar, but not identical, to ones made by others longing for contentment.
This is hardly a new thing I am struggling with. “Know Thyself” Is a very old bit of wisdom, attributed to ancient Greek philosophers. Start with yourself, they were saying, only then can you go further. Life is a teacher, learn her lessons.
So: What will make me happy, what will make me content? Only I can determine the answer. There are sources of help along the way that can be accessed, different for each of us. In this ever-changing world, and this challenging period of life, I get my help from several sources, and family heads the list.
The “Know Thyself” dictum helps me sort out what I need and what I can do myself. So, until further notice, count me as one who is both happy and contented, and headed down the road for tomorrow!