What matters more to you: being happy or content?

by Maddie

When I was at University, as part of the Creative Writing side of my degree, I had to write and compile an anthology on a topic I believed was interesting enough to compile an anthology on. And to me, the modern fascination with ‘happiness’ was interesting enough. I compiled the whole thing, using poetry and short stories I’d attempted to write myself, with famous poetry and short stories from famous authors of years gone by that delved deep into the psyche of what makes us ‘happy’. I was so proud of it. I poured a lot of energy into writing the assignment, and it was a topic close to my heart. I felt I was ‘happy’ with my happiness anthology (lol). That was until I got my grade back, and it was my second lowest grade I’d ever received at University, for the one assignment I actually thought I’d done a decent attempt at. It was covered with angry annotations in red from a lecturer who really didn’t think I’d done well at all on this piece. However, instead of feeling distraught about my grade, once I got over the initial disappointment, I actually felt very content about the whole thing. Because I knew I’d done my best. And that, right there, is the perfect anecdote to sum up what I believe is more important: contentment over happiness, always, for me.

I was speaking with one of my best pals this morning on Messenger (the only thing we use Facebook for now, let’s be real?) and we were discussing whether anyone is ‘truly happy’ right now. Amidst the pandemic, with livelihoods and, even more devastatingly, lives being lost, it’s hard to keep chipper all the time. But it really got me thinking back to what the entire anthology I composed was all about: is happiness really attainable? And, heck, is destination happiness really worth it?

To me, happiness is an emotion. It’s fleeting. It’s an extreme emotion – one that comes in waves. It’s impossible to strive for happiness as your end goal in life, because it’s a transitory state that will ebb and flow as you move through each chapter.

But, contentment is more achievable. It’s a state of being. Even when you’re not mega happy, you can be content. Even when things are going wrong, there’ll be something you’re content about to cling onto. Contentment suggests peace – an acceptance of how life is, and who you are. And that’s what I’m all about!

Let’s think about where we’re at right now. What stage of our lives we’re at; what we feel about our current circumstances. And how we can measure them up in terms of happiness and contentment. Here are mine:

  • I’m not in my dream job just yet, but I have a career that vaguely relates to what I want to do. I want to be a magazine journalist, but currently I’m a copywriter for a marketing agency and I freelance as a writer on the side. If ‘happiness’ is the destination, the dream job, it would be all to easy to get downtrodden and believe I’m not ‘happy’ yet. However, am I content in my current circumstances? Yes! ‘Cos I enjoy the roles I currently have.
  • Do I love my body? Nope. ‘Love’ is a strong feeling. So is ‘happiness’. Am I happy with my body? Nope. But am I appreciative of everything it does for me, that I’m lucky enough to be able-bodied and healthy, whilst knowing there is room for improvement in how I treat my body. So am I content with it? Do I tolerate it? Yes!!
  • Am I happy with the stage I’m at in life, personally? To me, that ‘happiness destination’ for my personal life would be to have a secure amount of savings behind me, a home I can say I’ve bought, a lil doggo (or two) to truly make me happy (dogs are the exception, dogs make everyone happy) the ability to see my loved ones more when we’re out of the pandemic and I finally have a car to own and drive, seeing my friends comfortable and secure, and having a long-term partner who has perhaps become my husband. Some of that’s way off in the future, for good reason, so I’m not ‘happy’ with where I am just yet, because I’m not there yet. But am I content in now? Yes I am!

Happiness often feels too much to live up to. Contentment, on the other hand, is in the present.

I reached out on Instagram to see what you all had to say about happiness and contentment, and the difference between the two, and it was really interesting to see what really matters. Here are your thoughts on the subject:

  • Are you happy right now?
    50% of you answered ‘yes’; 50% of you answered ‘no’. And again, it’s the whole ‘what do you determine happiness as being?’.
  • What matters more to you – being happy or being content?
    63% of you answered ‘being happy’; 37% of you answered ‘being content’.
  • Is happiness something you actively strive towards as a goal of yours?
    85% said ‘yes it is’; 15% of you answered ‘not really’.
  • Are you at peace with where you’re at in life right now?
    57% of you thought ‘you know what, I am!’; 43% of you believe you aren’t.
  • Do you look at others on social media and perceive them to be living lives that are ‘happy’?
    73% of you said ‘sometimes’; 27% of you said ‘no’.

If we perceive happiness as a ‘destination’, then it’s clear right now, mid pandemic, none of us are there yet. The pressure to be happy all the time is a LOT, even before 2020 hit us. And when I asked ‘What does happiness mean to you?’ your answers showed happiness to be something that’s a work in progress – a destination to work towards:

  • ‘Being able to be myself with confidence and feeling comfortable’ – something that’s a work in progress.
  • ‘Surrounding my life with people that make me feel the best version of myself!’ – striving towards a ‘best version’ suggests our states right now aren’t quite enough.
  • ‘Being comfortable and finding joy in things’ – the joy is still to be found – we’re not quite there yet.

Yet when I asked ‘What are the things in life that make you feel happiness?’ it was the simpler things that took precedence:

  • ‘Sitting in bed on an early morning, with a cup of tea. Either reading or chatting to my fiancΓ©.’
  • ‘Meditating each morning because I know that’s what brings me calm and clarity.’
  • ‘Seeing the smile on my nephew’s face!’
  • ‘Genuinely just a really tight hug where nothing else matters in that moment.’ I LOVE THIS RESPONSE!
  • ‘Nice and kind people!’
  • ‘Baths, having a lie in, nature walks, smelly candles, cuddles with my boyfriend, food!! and coffee.’
  • ‘The sunshine, my friends and cake.’

To me, that is contentment. Those moments where you feel nothing but peace, warmth and security. They may bring flashes of happiness – which is wonderful. But sometimes being content is enough.

Maybe it’s time we stripped ‘happiness’ of its power and weight. Stopped seeing it as a must-reach destination, and start thinking what matters to us, right now, in this moment. 2020 has shown us anything can be round the corner, so it’s what we do with today that really counts. xx

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Abi Purvis 17th October 2020 - 9:07 am

I adore this post!!
I’ve been looking into Monday morning attitudes (For a blog post) which has sorta led me to start contemplate our attitudes towards happiness and this post really sums that up. As a society we think we need to be happy 100% of the time But really we just need to be content with the little things in life because that’s where Day to day happiness truly lies

Maddie 19th October 2020 - 4:32 pm

Ah, Abi thank you so much for this comment! I feel this SO much – I think we focus on ‘happiness’ too much and discount the fact that it’s actually a fleeting emotion. Being content is something much more concrete πŸ™‚ x


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