What can people, places, and things from all over the world teach us about happiness? This was a question I wanted to spend the next few months trying to answer during my travels. I intended on submerging myself completely into other culture’s lifestyles, exploring how they obtained happiness. I wanted to ask different individuals how they perceived happiness and how they found this state of bliss. But the more time I’ve spent studying and thinking about this idea of “happiness” and what it truly entails, the more I’ve realized that it isn’t “happiness” we are after but rather something much more. Something more sustainable, something more obtainable.
Ask someone what their biggest aspiration in life is, what their goals and hopes are. Then ask them why they wish for these. The answer you’ll hear most is “to be happy”. In reality though, happiness isn’t what is obtained once we accomplish a goal or find ourselves at peace in the moment as happiness is a fleeting emotion. Rather the sustainable state of this “happiness” is “contentment”.
I used to cringe when I would hear the word “content”. To me it sounded as if you were in a phase where you didn’t feel a need to strive for what you were after and there was a lack of motivation to move forward because you were just “content” with where you were. My mind was changed about this word “contentment” when I read a book that mentioned the Chinese ancient proverb, “People in the West are always getting ready to live.” Our minds are constantly shifting from one thing to the next, filled with figuring out what we have to do next or what we need that we feel our life lacks, all so that we can find ourselves in a state of “happiness”. We are consumed with planning and longing for something more, that while we are “getting ready to live”, we miss out on the most important part. Living. And yet, even when we do get to that next phase whether it be a promotion at work, buying a new car, losing those extra pounds or anything else that we think will make us happier in life, we are already involved with whatever the next thing we long for to make us happy that we can’t even enjoy the moment. This fleeting moment of happiness is suddenly in the past and if we could manage to find a way to stop and emerge ourselves in the present moment, we would find ourselves in the state of “contentment”.
As I mentioned, happiness is a fleeting feeling as it is a difficult emotion to maintain. We experience this feeling of “happiness” and rather than being content with this feeling, we long for more. Instead of living and enjoying that moment, we start thinking about how we can prolong that feeling of happiness. Happiness in this sense can create addictions as we strive to sustain this feel good emotion thinking if we continue strive for what made us happy before, it will continue to make us just as happy. Contentment on the other hand is sustainable as it involves being at peace with the present. Can you live in that moment and find peace? Find peace with yourself and where you are at. Not longing for something more, and not feel as if in that moment there is anything you lack. For at that moment you are whole. It allows you to give yourself permission to be happy in the present moment without having to chase after it.
Now as I prepare to begin my journey of traveling solo around Southeast Asia and Europe, I look forward to finding myself in this state of contentment in each place I visit. Each week I will highlight various people and experiences that show me how one doesn’t have to strive for contentment to be happy, but rather stumbles upon happiness once they’ve found themselves content in the present moment. Enjoying the journey of exploring contentment, begins now.