My word of the week: Contentment
Posted by Simon Parke, 23 January 2023, 1.36pm
Contentment is a simple idea which can feel impossible.
The word describes the emotional state of being at ease with our situation, in body and mind.
It is a present condition, describing this moment, which finds us satisfied with what we have, who we are and where we are going.
It’s an unusual state, however, because of our inner climate, often polluted by our plans.
A significant source of human discontent is the gnawing sense that things could be better. We just need this to happen or that to occur and then we’ll be happy.
But because things we desire don’t always happen or occur, because our plans don’t work out, we are denied contentment.
Happiness is always round the next corner; and it’s the corner we never quite reach.
But contentment is not round the next corner. It’s here and it’s now. And at the heart of contentment is the outrageous sense that right now, things could not be better.
The ego screams at this suggestion. The ego has plans that have not worked out, so the very idea is absurd: ‘Only if our plans work out can we be content,’ says the ego. ‘If our plans do not work out how can there be contentment? That’s ridiculous.’
I can understand. Plans that don’t work out are difficult. In my considerable experience of failed plans, it often feels like annihilation.
But it’s the land beyond such annihilation that the ego doesn’t tell us about. There is land beyond. And it is here that perhaps we find contentment.
Marcus Aurelius wrote ‘Live with the gods. And he who does so constantly shows them that his soul is satisfied with what is assigned to them.’
We let go of our plans; we even let go of our longings, which swirl beneath our surface. (This is a harder task.) And find, for a moment, gratitude in what is. Contentment always involves gratitude.
A line from my diary: ‘My book has flopped but this is a very good cup of tea.’
A First World problem, I grant you. But it’s a longing, nonetheless, and a transferable principle. We begin to re-order the furniture of our souls, to create a different space from which to live.
In words attributed to the Buddha,
‘Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth.’