Happy — Content

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!


Filed under This & That

12 Responses to Happy — Content

  1. Doreen

    Well done Marjorie!! I miss you so much at The Lodge!

    • Marjorie

      Doreen – Yes – it works two ways. I miss my Calgary friends, the city itself, and the prairies. However the move here, close to my family, was the right thing to do. As my article said, I am content (and happy).

  2. Jim Taylor

    I don’t place as much reliance on dictionary definitions as you do, Marjorie. “Happy” and “content” mean exactly what you intend them to mean. Or what I intend them to mean, I suppose. “Content” suggests to me a comfortable pleasantness, that may not be perfect, but that you’re okay with. “Happy” implies both a greater exuberance, but also a shorter duration. Only cartoon characters can be happy ALL the time, but we can all be content. And sometimes that contentment flares into outright happiness.
    Regards, Jim T

    • Marjorie

      Jim – And no matter how you define them, if you experience a fair amount of either or both, you’re a lucky man! Good to hear from you.

  3. Ralph Gibson

    Yes, well done Mom !

    Your essay reminded me of a song……. I like the work of a Texas singer-songwriter named Ray Wylie Hubbard, one of the many very talented and very hard-working musicians who are highly regarded by other musicians but who have not achieved comparable “fame” or financial success. Hubbard has an quasi-autobiographical, “talking blues” song called “Mother Blues” (named after a dive bar in Dallas) that closes with the following lines:

    I’m grateful for the time I get to play with musicians
    Like George Reiff and Rick Richards
    I’m grateful that I get to write these old songs
    And travel around the world and play them for people

    And they come out and hear me play
    And the days that I keep my gratitude
    Higher than my expectations
    Well, I have really good days

    See you soon, Mom ! 🙂

    • Marjorie

      Thanks, Ralph, for your response to my blog. I particularly like the lines
      “The days that I keep my gratitude
      Higher than my expectations
      Well, I have really good days.”
      See you soon.

  4. Brenda Wallace

    Contentment for me, among other things, this week was spending time with my little three year old granddaughter in her pre-school orientation sessions. It was seeing old friends at church following a six week holiday at the coast. It was remembering dear friends who remain in our thoughts even though miles separate us. Have a great week, Marjorie.

    • Marjorie

      For me too, Brenda, content is the blanket word which covers all those others. Aren’t we blessed to experience so many wonderful feelings?

  5. Alison

    I can only think it’s important to be content, because we can’t always be happy. I greatly admire those who ARE content, it’s a wonderful quality to have, and one I aspire to.

    • Marjorie

      Keep working at it, Alison! It is a secret, but here it is – – The older you get, the easier it is to be content!

  6. Ian H.

    I try to remember that happiness is a means of travel, not a destination. (This isn’t original, by the way.) It suggests to me that being happy at least some of the time is part of being content, contentment being a more general satisfaction with the state of things.
    Thanks for this thought provoking post, Mrs. G. I’m looking forward to seeing you later in the week. Ian

    • Marjorie

      Ian – Yes, we actually do learn a few things, as the years roll by, often to my surprise! Never too old for that. Looking forward greatly to seeing two guys I have known for many of those spent years!