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To be happy, or content?

Huzaima Bukhari

When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need—Dalai Lama

Restlessness is an in-built feature in human beings. Barring a few exceptions, it is very difficult for a person to remain inactive for long. No harm in it either as long as it does not create problems for others. Similarly, being ambitious is also not a negative trait but again, achieving one’s goals in life should not be at the expense of destroying other people’s lives. What a perfect world would it be if we were to follow these principles religiously but alas, this will just remain an unfulfilled dream! If we are all in a state of impatience then who are the souls that appear content and happy? Happiness is a very illusive term in that some derive happiness in making others happy while some feel happy in making others unhappy. However, one thing is for sure. A content person may not be really happy but is at peace with himself which, by the way is a great blessing. It is indeed a strange world!

Generally speaking, those who appear content in their lives are looked upon as being lazy, uninterested in ostentation even though they may be part of a glamorous world, demotivated, boring, miserly and foolish while those who are constantly in a feverish state are viewed as intelligent, go-getters, successful, vibrant and full of spark. Again these perceptions could be highly deceptive. A lazy person could be very dissatisfied while an ambitious one could still be content. In short, being content is a state of mind and heart that could engulf anyone no matter whether beautiful or ugly, rich or poor, intelligent or dumb, educated or illiterate. No sweeping statements can be made about specific situations which may invoke feelings of contentment, or discontentment for that matter. In the words of Gilbert K. Chesterton, an English philosopher as he defines contentment with life: “Being ‘contented’ ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased. Being content with an attic ought to not mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it; it ought to mean appreciating all there is in such a position.”

A person who apparently has everything one could wish for in life, like good health, money, status, family and friends, might be prone to brooding and expressing his disgruntlement over petty issues, is definitely discontented whereas a contented person who is not so happily placed can be grateful for all the little blessings he has been endowed with, finding pleasure and happiness in the most minor of things.

Who does not aspire for the really perfect life where everything revolves around his inner wishes but unfortunately, no one can claim to have such an existence but the least he can do is make the best of whatever he has. This is one form of contentment. The effort to improve should continue but in a subtle manner. Unless one hits a jackpot, riches cannot be achieved overnight. Besides, wealth is no guarantee for happiness although it may help to overcome material problems. This is the secret that has come down to us from generation to generation, the voices raised in sermons from pulpits of all known religions, the experience that every parent passes onto his offspring and the knowledge that teachers give to their students. Yet we continue to make this mistake only to learn our lessons the hard way.

People usually tend to talk of the present world as becoming very materialistic in that everything and everyone is valued on the principle of money and wealth. This is quite an unfair observation because down through the ages the same morbid story has repeated itself. The only variance is that in the earlier times wealth and riches had different connotations but the fact remains that societies were divided into poor, rich, richer and richest. Every era had its own set of both content and unhappy lot except that the ‘demon’ of communication was riding really slowly with news travelling at a snail’s pace that prevented ripples of tension from forming into alarming waves and there is evidence that despite the prevailing calmness during those times, people did look for solutions to achieve happiness and contentment.

Even today, there are many ways to lead blissful lives. We have been forced to think that there are only specific jobs that can raise our status in society regardless of one’s disgust for it. This notion should be shunned to look for work which you find enjoyable. The best thing would be to do what you love and convert your favourite hobby into a profession. Cherish your blessings rather than moan about things you do not have. After all, there may be many out there who are deprived of what you have. Spend quality time with family and friends and try to keep the human interactive lines open—not just through machines. Share your spiritual and material blessings with others. Service to humanity is always a source of joy and gives the soul a serene feeling of satisfaction. Accepting who you are is better than comparing yourself to others. Competition should be with oneself.

As someone remarked, the world does not bring good or evil on its own. Everything that is happening around us is the reflection of our own thoughts, feelings, wishes and actions. And how aptly Chanakya stated: “There is no austerity equal to a balanced mind, and there is no happiness equal to contentment; there is no disease like covetousness, and no virtue like mercy”—if only we understand.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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