Happy vs. Content: A Reflection


For much of my life, I worked really hard to be happy.  All the time.  Or as close to all the time as possible.  I thought that’s what I was supposed to be (one of my long-time grade school bus drivers even nicknamed me “Happy”!).  In addition, I used to do all I could to help those around me be happy.  I thought that’s what they were supposed to be, too.  I used to think everyone should just, you know, “don’t worry, be happy!” (a la Bobby McFerrin…).

That’s not how I think these days.  That’s not what I do at present.  That’s not who I am in this season of my life.

These days, I find I have traded happiness for contentment.  I find I’m not trying nearly as hard, I’m not doing nearly as much, I’m not putting nearly as much stock in being happy, whether in regard to myself or those around me.  And while on any given day, I may or may not claim to feel as happy as I felt previously, I have come to realize that I do feel deeply content.

What’s the difference?  It seems to me that we often experience “happiness” when good things happen, or when bad things don’t happen.  Happiness comes, it seems, when things work out as we want them to (or as we think they should), when we get to do what we want to do, when we get to be with those we want to be with, when we just plain feel good.

And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of that.  There’s nothing wrong with being happy!  But if the above observations are accurate, it seems that being happy is based largely on externals–on other things, on other people, on circumstances outside of ourselves….

Contentment, on the other hand, seems to come more from within.  My life experience has led me to believe that something “bad” can happen to you, yet you can still be content; that we can not get what we want–and even get what we don’t want–and still feel content.  I have become convinced that even when things are not as I think they should be, when I am not where I want to be, when I really just don’t like what’s going on around me…I can still be content.


For me, it seems that this soul-deep contentment has come from a gradually deepening awareness and profound acceptance of two ideas: one, that I am enough; and two, that all shall be well.

I am enough.  As I have lived with fatigue and its resultant significantly limited reserves of energy, and have been forced to pull back and pull back and pull back some more from my former levels of doing and doing and doing yet more for everyone around me, I have been given the gift of coming to realize that I am enough.  Just me.  Just who I am.  For some time now I have not been able to do much, if anything, for very many; all I have been able to offer is myself, and even that in severely limited quantities!  But I have discovered that that is enough.  That I am still loved.  That I am still valued.  That who I am, largely stripped of what I can dois enough.

All shall be well.  By external, and perhaps, human, standards, all is clearly not well at present.  Bad things, big and small, happen all the time.  Trauma, tragedy, tension.  Pain and poverty.  Sickness, stress, conflict, and confusion.  The list of what is “not well” in our lives and in the world is seemingly endless.  And yet I believe deeply that all shall be well.  And I don’t just mean in the afterlife.  I mean in my life, in this life.  Am I simply being naive?  Am I a Pollyanna with a simple, blind, and untested faith?  Am I in denial of the difficult realities not only in my life but in our world?  I don’t think so.  I’d like to believe, instead, that because of my difficulties, I have become  more convinced of a deeper reality, more confident in a bigger picture, more utterly certain of a Goodness and Wholeness and Wellness that underlies and undergirds the reality that we see and hear and touch and live within, each day of our lives.  There is something More, something Bigger, something Deeper, something profoundly Good…that is beyond my view and beyond my understanding, but not beyond my imagination.  I am part of that Good, and my experiences are pieces of that something More, but my life is not the be-all and end-all.  Regardless of the specifics of my day-to-day life, in the greater realm of this deeper Reality,  somehow, all shall be well.

I am enough.  All shall be well.  And I am content.


2 thoughts on “Happy vs. Content: A Reflection

  1. patslentz

    Yes, indeed – YOU are more than enough! This is a lesson I’m constantly relearning as our culture doesn’t reinforce this too well. This would make a great sermon, BTW. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Pat! I’m glad something in what I wrote resonated with you and your experience. As for the relearning, I suspect this won’t be the last time for me, either!! Thanks for taking the time to share your comments. 🙂

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