We live in a world of thoughts and emotions; so what could be more important than our sense of contentedness?
Firstly, let’s go by the book – The Oxford English Dictionary. This gives us only a dry definition, but one that’s nonetheless useful and provides a point to embark upon a deeper, more fleshed-out understanding. We can go on from here to briefly explore the idea of how contentedness may relate to our personal sense of self in being, and why in my opinion, contentedness is the most pivotally important aspect of all our psychological worlds.
Expanding on this personally held view, I would go so far as to say that the impulse to realise contentedness, above happiness, is in fact the primary influence upon a great deal of our everyday experience – our lived, workaday reality. We can explore that particular assertion elsewhere on the site, and more thoroughly still in my book The Sway of Contentedness, where I make a detailed analysis of the matter. But just for now, let’s reach for that weightiest and most authoritative of dictionaries . . .
We so often mistakenly think that acquiring more – wealth, status, relationships – will bring us contentedness
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the adjective of (being) ‘content’ as ‘having one’s desires bounded by what one has; desiring nothing more or different; satisfied, contented’, and also as ‘acceptance of conditions or circumstances, acquiescence’. Acquiescence itself is defined as ‘to remain at rest; to rest satisfied’. As a noun the O.E.D. defines ‘content’ as ‘the fact, condition or quality of being contented; contentedness’. These definitions indicate that a component of mental passivity inheres in any such state.
So, contentedness sounds like something close to what’s meant by the terms ‘gratification’ and/or ‘relief’, though it isn’t synonymous. There’s a subtle but critically important distinction which itself goes beyond the indicated psychological passivity just noted. Let’s now clarify what that additional difference is.
Pleasurableness and gratification; freedom from anxiety – these states alone cannot bring contentedness
In the O.E.D. the term ‘gratification’ is defined as ‘a reward, recompense, gratuity; a bribe’, and also ‘to give pleasure to; to please, oblige; to do a favour to’. The definition of the act of ‘gratifying’ is defined as ‘to please by compliance; to humour, indulge’. The term ‘relief’ is defined as ‘ease or alleviation given to or received by a person through the removal or lessening of some cause of distress or anxiety’.
What is notable in those definitions, as distinct from that of contentedness, is that in no sense is there indicated a condition which is necessarily without want in some degree; neither is there any certain sense of fulfilment. In short, there’s nothing absolute or unqualified in either of the conditions of ‘being gratified’ or ‘sensing relief’. In other words, we can still feel gratification, and we can still sense relief, whilst at the same time remaining subtly discontented, which of course is not a passive state of mind.
There’s a passivity in contentedness, and a desireless aspect too. Together, these conditions free us to live more fully, and we are less bound by selfish dictates
So whilst being related, contentedness is in fact of a different order to any manifest gratification or feeling of relief. Rather, contentedness is entirely unqualified; it’s absolute in its precise definition. It is, in its purest form, a desireless state, though without that remotely implying any lifeless sense of disengagement or neglectful disregard. In being desireless, this contented and reposeful attitude of mind brings with it a liberating sense of freedom from our ceaseless egoical striving and self-interested orientations. And it’s this desireless absence of selfhood that brings about the mental passivity.
At some fundamental level, we know much of this, and through contemplation are able to confirm beyond doubt in reflective awareness our hidden, yet innate knowledge. This is why I feel certain that it’s quite correct to regard contentedness as the primary influence that acts upon both our emotional welfare, as well as upon our mundane or worldly lived experience. It’s this naturally inhering knowledge that we each possess that effectively dictates our personally typified approaches to life, its challenges, and whatever worldly aspirations we hold.
Our emotional energies are constantly drained in an endless pursuit of desires and aversions
Whilst we’re not consciously aware of the subtle influencing power of contentedness, we may become so through directing awareness contemplatively and introspectively. We can then see how and why our habituated and typified approaches to life seldom meet the objectives we intuit in seeking any state of contentment. What we discover is that we invariably approach our objective through the orientations of self-interest. More specifically, we engage an egoically motivated series of desires and aversions in the vain hope that contentment may attach to, or be possessed by, the self-construct we hold of ourselves but which itself resides only in belief and narrative.
It’s the imagined self which is never satisfied; it hungers for more of what it judges to be good, and less of what it conceives as bad
So contentedness, either as it’s felt, or in our awareness of its absence, is very much bound-up with our own sense of self in being. There’s an undeniable correlation between the two which through contemplative reflection we’re able to confirm. What we see by means of intuitive insight is that the influencing power of contentedness is always subverted and neutralised by the intervention of selfhood, by the desires and aversions that the self-entity unthinkingly projects into experience.
Once we untangle the narrative beliefs that comprise this sense of selfhood, we see that our minds and bodies do indeed have a default state of passivity. It’s this default state that acts as the influencing factor that was spoken of; it’s this that exerts the subtle sway of contentedness in our workaday lives. Through intuitive insight gleaned in contemplative living, we progressively untangle the narrative beliefs of selfhood and the balance shifts away from heated, egoical striving and towards increasing states of contentment.
Some fancifully claim there are heaven worlds attainable in this life; yet in contentedness there is no desire for them in any case . . .
Contentedness, as I see it, is the ne plus ultra of the human animal. It’s a condition, beyond which, there’s nothing further attainable by the individual in terms of human goodness. Of course, there are all sorts of exotic states of mind; some people call them ‘spiritual’ experiences. You may have had them; so too have I now and again – aren’t they wonderful? Nevertheless, I’m going to be at odds with a great many when asserting there’s nothing attainable as a transcendent metaphysical abode for the psyche beyond a pure, desireless contentedness.
If you’re looking for something higher than that, something that will grant you transcendence into some psychical realm of religious cosmology, or some universal consciousness, then this really isn’t the right place for you. If you want to transcend your narrow and coalesced sense of self, then it may be. Certainly, if you want to explore that most fundamental of human urges which is the gravitational pull towards contentedness, then this is a good place to stop by now and again – perhaps to add your thoughts, or just to view those of others.