Monday, 28 February 2011

Contentment not happiness rules!

Happiness is an overrated activity in my world. Being happy is always something we have in retrospect, as in: I was really happy last month. But in reality, in the here and now we can rarely say I am happy right now this minute. We are always chasing happiness, as if, when we get to the place we think it will be, then we'll find it. Which I believe to be rarely the case.

There have been moments in my life when I am working in a mindful way that I can say yes I am happy in this moment. But that feeling doesn't last, it flies in touches me, and disappears off again without so much as a by your leave!

I believe the only people who regularly happy are those who lead a contemplative life,as in monks and nuns. But I'm not sure whether they would describe their emotional state as happy.

What I do have though, which for me holds much deeper meaning is contentment, peace and joy. These feelings have some substance to them for me, in that most of the time I can capture any one of them,which in turn will lead to another.

So in therapy I don't work with people to find happy. We work together to find their inner contentment. The sort of thing where very small things make people smile and feel good. For me the list of things that do this is huge, but it's not about my list. Its getting people to stop trying to achieve the impossible and to work with what is possible.

People come into therapy chasing happy and avoiding fear. So they end up on a perpetual place of going nowhere fast. It is the job of therapy, in my book at least, to help people see that confronting fear is never ever as frightening as fear itself.

We are all born with the ability to have fear, alongside the abilities to have anger, sadness and the ability to love.These are not scary emotions to the child. If a child is upset they cry, if angry they shout, if loved they flourish with all these emotions.

Instinctively children use their emotions to survive, the new born baby smiles to get love back, as love equals food and attention. The child who has fallen over needs a magic kiss to make them better. And if they don't get love and are ill treated the child learns to be silent as a way to protect themselves.

Current research suggests that young people get happiness through excitement of waiting for something. Whilst older people get it through a feeling of peace with their worlds. And the new thinking about the treatment of depression is walking!

If we can start to take pleasure in the world around us, the joy of growing our own food, the making of good food, the pleasure of producing something we have made, a picture, a jumper, a clay pot, then contentment isn't far away.

Seeing the beauty in the world around us, it may be as small as a bright yellow dandelion poking through the cracks in an industrial landscape,if it makes us smile then we are half way there to contentment.

So even on my blackest days hearing birdsong, or pattering rain, or getting sun on my face, or getting a hug (which for me is rare on a daily basis)then these things, and many more, will make me glad to be alive and then to be able to face the onslaught of whatever the particular blackness is about.


jeanette from everton terrace said...

I agree, nature and the wonder of this amazing planet inspire such a feeling of awe in me. Sometimes I look around and can only say "wow". I am happy almost every day and I'm certain I feel joy every day. Honestly there are times I feel it's going to bubble up right out of me. There are days of course, trying times and sad things but the underlying feeling of joy and peace is always there. Contentment vs. happy is interesting and I don't think you can have happy without contentment. I am going to send a wish out into the world for more hugs for you, sending a virtual one to you from the desert today.

TALON said...

I always think of happiness as transitory and contentment as something with the potential for permanence.

Thoughtful post, Mandy. I enjoyed it very much.

Lyn said...

Mandy, interesting post. For me happiness is the collective of all of these: contentment, peace and joy. When I am fully present, living in the moment which accounts for the majority of the time, I feel happy. I have a spring in my step, and smiles and laughter come easy. I have that feeling that says all is good in my world.

It is interesting to hear about the work you do helping others in therapy. Hugs (cause we can never have too many!)

Anonymous said...

"To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy , not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly,
Talk gently,
Act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully,
Do all bravely,
Await occasions,
Hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.

I hear your heart as it resonates thru the music of the universe.
I love the wisdom of your song beautiful lady, and hold a contented gratitude for the gift of knowing you..

Kolley Kibber said...

Spot on. I do the same kind of work as you, and am very quick to 'examine' what clients actually mean by 'the H word' - very often they are actually describing and seeking something much more low-key, gentle and realistic like contentment, but get caught up in the emotional scavenger hunt for 'happiness' instead.

And it's not a concept I would want to have reduced to a tick-box on a census form, though our government would have it otherwise. I'd never want to admit to them if I DID feel happy at the moment the question was asked - they'd only take the credit for it!

Paula said...

For me happiness is a fleeing moment. It comes form the outside. Joy however derives from my core. Contentment and peace make joy happen for me. I am grateful for finding joy in my life.

Pam said...

I cannot thank you enough for this post Mandy. It has come at just the right time for me and I agree with it entirely.Every word.
Even at my saddest times there is peace.
I recognize happiness when it blesses my days and appreciate its sunny presence but know on roller coaster happenings that permeate my days and stage in life, as I listen to and try and act upon the concerns of those near and dear, deeper gutsier emotions are the ones which will see me steadily through.
Mandy dearest, you are such a gem for the help contained in this.
My delight and deep contentment in the little simple things today? Buzzing bees, sunlight and eating watermelon together with soft bocconcini cheese. xxx

GaynorB said...

A good creed by which to live! Thought provoking words, to which I find it difficult to articulate a clear response. I think Lyn has said what is in my mind.

Marilyn & Jeff said...

This is so well written and I agree with what you are saying. I find that peace and joy come from inner contentment.

Glitterstim said...

Contentment in the here and now is what keeps me sane and centered, I think. I think this is why I had to break from Ranger -- you can't be content while waiting for the other shoe to drop all the time.

:o) BJ

Unknown said...

And this is why I love photography because it makes you look at the world around you in such a focused way - in a way where you really concentrate on finding the beauty and the magic. I forget who it was who said that looking at the world through a camera lens is an incredible form of self-healing.

Angela said...

You are very wise, Mandy. To me joy and cheerfulness are an important part of my life, and when they are hiding somewhere (oh, they do sometimes) I purposely go and look for them. It would be so easy to give in to the fear and envy demons which seem to surround us, but what GOOD ever comes from them? And I think we are here for a good and friendly life! Like you, I always find a good long walk an incredibly successful therapy. Thanks for making me think about this subject again.