The Nature of Contentment

contentment1This is not a new subject here, and I hope I can be forgiven for repeating some things. I don’t often go back over old posts to be sure I’m not doing that for the simple reason that if I wake up with my muse scribbling words on my forehead about something I may have explored before, it must be an important thing and maybe there’ll be something new to be found in the fresh examination of it. So off I go, back on my spotty white nag to tilt at windmills. Join me, will you?

Serenity is a word I’ve used before, but not terribly often because I think it can be a bit haughty. Though people will often wave their hand dismissively and mutter something about semantics, these things really do make a difference. A commonly used synonym for it might be contentment, but I believe, and here I go being all semantical again, that that is much too simple a comparison. While the persistent state of being serene can encompass contentment, that it might even be presumed in the understanding of the word, the latter is a much more slippery thing than the former. So much so that I struggle calling it a state of being even though I am pretty sure it’s not an emotion.

As a complete aside, with absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand, am I the only one who always gets former and latter mixed up? Drives me crazy. Of course, I’m also the person who only recently managed to remember that conscious actually has an S in it and didn’t learn how to properly pronounce the word paradigm until I was 25.

Back on track.

When I think of the word contentment, I often imagine a small family in some far-off little village, living in a bamboo and grass hut on the edge of a river eating a simple meal of rice and fish. I have no idea why, that’s just what pops into my head. They seem content, but why? By the same token, I can easily imagine a man with a closet full of very expensive suits being discontented, maybe because he hasn’t been made partner in the firm yet, or because his Uber is late and he’s got a meeting uptown in 10 minutes. These could very well be preconceptions on my part based primarily on the society and culture I was raised in, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that possibility. It’s why I call these little essays an exploration of ideas, rather than a solid manifesto on life, the universe, and everything (forty-two). It bothers me that I can’t pin it down as easily as I thought I might, so maybe let’s look at things I do know.

The other day I had an appointment with my GP. It was a good one, where I discussed my little adventure to the Big Smoke last week, the progress forward I am making in the daily management of my varied issues, and the healthier tools I have now to help. When I left, I went to the local Community Care office to finalise an application for the Ontario Electricity Support Program (something here to help people with low incomes meet their primary utility costs). When I came home, I scanned and sent a psychiatrist’s letter to the union rep handling my compensation claims, sent an email to the shrink’s nurse to follow up on some things, then made some dinner. I have food in my pantry, gas in my car (thank you Lynne), and took care of some niggly little tasks so that those pending obligations (and even small ones can be overwhelming for those with injured noggins like mine) were gone.

I was happy, of course, and not just a little proud (because we’re allowed to be even when the accomplishments seem small), but blanketing those passing emotions was a sense of contentment that carried over so that, for the most part, I am still soaking in it now. For the most part, anyway. It’s still ten days until the end of the month and my next disability benefit cheque, and I am counting coins to buy cigarettes this morning (don’t you judge me!). Bills have been paid, food is still stocked, but there is some slipping in my level of contentment because one need is in danger of not being met.

Is that what contentment is, then? Having your needs met, perhaps those you create yourself as well as those more basic? Serenity, or as I call it my personal calm, is still there, my pleasantly persistent baseline state of being, despite the angsty little feeling of concern that, for me, normally begins in the right medial trapezius like a bunch of little needles scraping the skin, but I feel contentment being all slippery and shit.

As a proper and patriotic Canadian, I feel the need to apologise for the lack of any solid conclusion or meaningful insight as I wrap this one up. When I began, even when I woke up with the words in sharpie on my forehead (my muse thinks she’s funny), I thought I could plug this one out fairly easily but seem to have only posited more questions than I’ve answered. As a beginning, though, a tentative toe in the chilly water, I feel pretty good about it, knowing there will be more thoughts and more words and more explorations to come.

For the time being, I am content to end it here (that’s me trying to be clever and only slightly succeeding). Be on the lookout for part two, and please share your own thoughts so I might steal them later.

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One thought on “The Nature of Contentment

  1. This is a good entry and there’s no need to apologize. I try not to worry about the very frustrating semantics of comparing serenity and contentment–both represent a real challenge to me. Although I’ve been sober thirty years now (with a bit of luck thrown in), I still rely heavily on the Serenity Prayer in my support system. The real challenge in that plea, for me, is “the wisdom to know the difference.” That tests me frequently as I search to either accept or change things. The result is sometimes a frustrating one, as I try to define that “difference,” but it serves as a bit of a guidepost in my daily life. It’s a goal and not always a perfect outcome. I just keep trying the best I can–it’s all I can do..

    Liked by 1 person

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