Happiness vs Contentment – Understanding Your Goals

happiness vs contentment

Many of us spend our lives in pursuit of happiness. But is that goal achievable? And if so, can we appreciate that happiness comes and goes, like the enjoyment of dessert. Do you truly understand the meaning of happiness? What about contentment? Where does it fit in and what’s the difference between happiness vs contentment?

Happiness and contentment are often used interchangeably, but they do not have the same meaning. Let’s dive deeper into both happiness and contentment to determine which resonates, and which you’d like to pursue.

What Is Happiness?

Happiness is a state of well-being, joy, and contentment. It is not a trait. It is not permanent and may change from time to time.

Happiness is a feeling of pleasure. It describes a range of emotions, including joy, bliss, happiness, contentment, ecstasy, etc. Both internal and external factors can cause it.

Happiness can be either hedonic or eudemonic. Hedonic happiness refers to overall well-being, whereby your life is more pleasurable than painful. Therefore, you feel a general sense of satisfaction.

On the other hand, eudemonic happiness results from pursuing personal growth, living your full potential, and your life’s purpose.

Some people see happiness as a result of achieving your pursuits, while others see it as the ultimate purpose of life.  According to Aristotle, happiness is the ultimate goal of life. Aristotle further categorized happiness into four levels:

Level 1: Laetus

This happiness level is a form of happiness that results from sensual gratification, e.g., obtaining material things. It is usually intense and short-lived. Focusing on this type of happiness can lead to a crisis in life as it puts you in an unending loop of pursuing material things. However, it is alright to enjoy pleasure at this level when it arises.

Level 2: Felix

Felix is happiness as a result of ego gratification. It is mainly achieved in comparison with others or when you feel admired by others—for example, winning a competition or getting a promotion at work. Pursuing this type of happiness is discouraged as it is unsustainable and can breed jealousy, unhealthy competition, and cynicism.

Level 3: Beatitudo

Beatitudo is happiness resulting from human connection and doing good to others. It is based on love, friendship, togetherness, and compassion and is more lasting and profound than level 1 and 2 happiness. However, it bears the risk of hurt. Since no one is perfect, people you love or are kind to may disappoint you.

Level 4: Sublime Beatitudo

Sublime Beatitudo is the ultimate kind of happiness. It is associated with transcendence and experiencing life in its fullness. You can achieve it by balancing the other levels. It may also be achieved through spirituality, religion, art, and scientific endeavors in search of the meaning of life when you find your calling and fulfillment of your life’s purpose.

Therefore, true happiness can be achieved by:

  • Connecting with other people
  • Discovering your calling and living it
  • Having the resources to live comfortably
  • Taking care of your physical health
  • Upholding your moral values
  • Having a spiritual or religious practice
  • Being kind, helpful, and compassionate to others
  • Experiencing a positive emotion

smiling young african american man

What Is Contentment?

Contentment is a state of satisfaction. Contentment with what one has, or thinks, or is.   It does not mean that you do not desire more. Instead, it means you are satisfied with what you have…and may wait for or pursue a shift in circumstances as well.

As such, contentment does not mean giving up on your goals and desires or reduce your hopes, or tolerate a situation that feels like stagnation. It means you settle into what you have and enjoy it even as you seek more.

Some people see contentment as a lack of greed and materialism. When you do not make the primary purpose of your life pursuing the largest income, the biggest house, competing with others at work for promotions, etc. Rather, you pursue deeper goals, such as abundance, harmony, joy, appreciation, gratitude, and peace, which bring lasting satisfaction in your life.

You can achieve contentment by:

  • Expressing gratitude for what you have.
  • Paying it forward to others in kind, time, and resources.
  • Setting goals and pursuing them with a grounded optimism.
  • Accepting yourself and your life as is.
  • Focusing on the good in your life.
  • Being self-aware and noticing when you take the good that is already in your life for granted.

Which Is Better: Happiness vs Contentment?

Both contentment and happiness are pleasurable states. They are temporary, but there are ways to make them more lasting. For instance, if you focus on seeking happiness at levels 3 and 4, it will be more lasting.

You may become happy if you acquire material things, but happiness pegged in pursuing and achieving these things is not long-lasting. It feels like a momentary rush of adrenaline. On the other hand, contentment can feel more fulfilling and peaceful. It’s not the “pursuit of”, it’s “settling into”. Like settling into the couch on a snowy night to read, or watch a book. It’s enjoying that which is available to you.

Both happiness and contentment are important in a meaningful life, and they are attainable. Therefore, it can be useful to pursue happiness (knowing it comes and goes, is not steady) while consistently engaging in contentment.

While happiness is subjective, psychological well-being is more innate. It comes from being mindful, grateful, and compassionate to ourselves and others. One can be happy but not content, but in most cases, contentment also brings happiness. So if I had to choose one, I’d move toward contentment as a state of being.

Incorporating practices such as gratitude, fostering meaningful relationships with people in your life, giving back to society, taking care of your health, and cultivating a positive mindset promote happiness and contentment.

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