Contentment is What We Seek

 "Health is the most precious gain and contentment, the greatest wealth" - Gautama Buddha

Happiness and contentment are not the same. Happiness is excitement, or at the very least, the lack of boredom. To be content means to be satisfied, not to settle.

The source of all dissatisfaction appears to stem from the ability to compare experiences and then infer that one's state is not ideal.

Contentment is a state which is ideally reached through being happy with what a person has, as opposed to achieving one's larger ambitions.

There is a belief that one can achieve contentment by living "in the moment,” which represents a way to stop the judgmental process of discriminating between good and bad.

“Happiness comes after contentment.” - E.A. Cabaltica

The Eastern Approach

An Eastern philosophical approach to contentment would say we are on the right path is when we are in harmony with:

  • Our past - No regrets and no guilt. We must address the causes, solve them, and then we must let them go.
  • Our present - Being in the moment (doing what we want, when we want, and with whom we want as much as possible).
  • Our future - No worry. If you have a problem, fix it if it’s within your control and accept it if it isn’t, then move on. Having a purpose or major goal to be working toward can help us minimize these short-term problems.

Eastern philosophy generally puts the focus on contentedness, being in the moment, and taking life day by day. Wanting what you have, not having what you want. Western philosophy seems to put the emphasis on setting large goals and devoting your life to achieving them. Don’t be satisfied with what you have, aim higher, and achieve more.

Grand and powerful civilizations have been built on the foundation of wanting more and life within these civilizations is arguably safer and more secure. But there is a price to be paid for living in a society that is maintained through a lack of contentedness with what we already have. The problem is that the economy that supports the society in which we live is fueled by money, which happens to be the same fuel we use to satisfy our own basic needs. Our needs and the needs of our society are in alignment. Until they aren’t.

Our higher needs are satisfied by an entirely different “currency”, one that our economy has zero use for. Our need for love, belongingness, and esteem is of no consequence to our economy and in fact it is a rather bothersome distraction. The true satisfaction of our higher needs requires us to first find contentment with our deficiency needs and the sooner the better. It is this contentment with our lower needs, the need for less stuff, that threatens to put the brakes on the economy.

But our economy has a trick up its sleeve, what if it can convince us that we can use the same currency for our higher needs that we use for our lower needs. What if it could convince us that love, belongingness, and our esteem could be bought? That is exactly what it has been trying, and succeeding, to convince us of for the past century or so. But by understanding that our higher needs cannot be bought and can only be satisfied once we find contentment with what we already have, we can escape the treadmill society has us on and begin pursuing our higher needs and ultimately, a self-fulfilling life.

“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want but the realization of how much you already have.”

Read more - Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse or check out Jim’s Notes (coming soon!)

The Long-Term Version of Happiness?

Happiness may not be contentment, but it certainly is a building block that the foundation of contentment is built upon. Happiness is not a destination, it is a state of being, and it is only temporary, but it is these temporary moments that a contented life is not only built on but they are required.  Remember, these moments of happiness are not moments of pleasure, although they can certainly feel pleasurable, they are moments of excitement, of learning, of accomplishment, and of growth. Which is why we can build on them.

"Contentment is the place and moments of happiness are the steps we take to get there"

Converting Happy Moments Into a Happy Life
If we can personally grow from every happy experience we have, then those experiences will have an additive effect on our outlook on life, and we can visualize our own rising contentment scale like the one above. There are other factors that contribute to an overall feeling of contentment in our lives, but a life lacking happy moments, or peak experiences seems to make this almost impossible.

“Contentment makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.” - Ben Franklin.

Seeking Contentment

Just as happiness is not a destination, neither is contentment. But unlike the brevity of happiness, contentment can be lasting. It is like a bucket that can be added to and taken from. If we have a bad day and take from the bucket, we may still have plenty in it to sustain us. But, if we take too much from it for too long, we may eventually find it empty. The tricky part is that the things we need to add to the bucket are not clearly labeled for us as “contentment items”.

Maybe living a life of contentment is traveling down a path of life that has as many of these contentment items as possible for us to find along the way. It’s possible that peak experiences could make up most if not all of these items, but there are other kinds of items that we can add to our bucket as well.

"I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them." - John Stuart Mill

Satisfying a true need, or the confidence in our ability to satisfy that need can surely add to our feeling of contentment. And those contentment items will become bigger and more bucket filling, the higher the need that is being satisfied. As we make our way up the pathway of our needs hierarchy, reaching the level of self-actualization will culminate in, as well as require, living a life of contentment.

"He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have." - Socrates

A life of contentment is not just the result of these things, it is the integration of them. Happy moments will come from satisfying our needs, the higher the need the happier the moment, the peakier the experience. The more contentment we feel with how our lives are unfolding, the easier those needs will be to satisfy and the happy moments will be to experience. The upwardly spiraling feedback loop.


Contentment is not a place, it is a path, and it is not a path of relaxation and pleasure, it is one filled with excitement, adventure, and challenges. While being proactive in this regard allows us to take charge of our lives (how we will live and who we will live it with), we can also lower the bar as well.

We can achieve contentment with what we have in life, while not being complacent about who we are to become. Contentment without complacency!

To have contentment we must:
  • Be in control of our own lives.
  • Be confidently satisfying our needs in life.
  • Be on the path to self-actualization.
The pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness.
We are not on this Earth to just live, but to live an exciting, fulfilling life, where the only boundaries are the ones we set for ourselves. And maybe the ones dictated by biology and physics. But that’s it! Well, and maybe chemistry.

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