I learned something new today.
Did you know that the root word of “happy” is “hap” – a word that means “chance or fortune”?
It’s funny how etymology can point out some simple truths.
The problem with happiness is that it has a dependency on luck – on happenstance. That’s why seeking happiness is such a ridiculous idea. Seeking happiness is the equivalent of seeking serendipity.
By definition, good fortune, the cause of happiness, is something extrinsic to the individual. It is something “out there” that sometimes happens to create a favourable chemical reaction in your brain which is what we call happiness.
It’s not really what people think it is at all, which could explain why so many people ask “what can I do to be happy?”
There is nothing that you can do to be happy – no more than you can do in order to be lucky.
But, there is still something far deeper than happiness that is fully within your sphere of influence, and will allow you to have a deeper and more meaningful experience of happiness when it comes your way, and that is contentment.
We’ve misunderstood our own language so much that a lot of people believe that contentedness is some kind of apathetic, stoic, lower form of happiness. Things aren’t great, but they could be worse.
But etymology tells us a different story. Where happiness is based on external factors like luck, contentment is defined as “a state of satisfaction and inner peace.”
So that’s it.
Happiness = Satisfaction from external factors such as people, achievement and luck
Contentment = Satisfaction from inner peace
That’s not to say that happiness is not a good thing, or not something to enjoy. But you won’t experience true happiness until you learn to choose to be content.
Remember, the world is your mirror. Your inner state is reflected by the outside world.
That’s why they say “money can’t buy you happiness.”
I think a more accurate saying would be “money can’t buy you contentedness”, because it is a state of mind. Money can buy you the seeds of fortunate circumstances, but you have to cultivate the fertile soil of contentedness for it to grow and flourish, rather than it just being a fleeting thing. Otherwise, your happiness just dies and you need to buy more seeds in order to experience any form of joy, because it never lasts.
How mental is that?
Just look at rich people. They have everything that society tells you that you need in order to be happy – a mansion, a nice car and a portfolio of investments.
But are most of them happy?
A huge amount are not. They are more concerned with losing what they have, or not getting a good return in an investment with it as they could, and in doing so, they are not content. And without the prerequisite of contentedness, happiness will never last.
But once you have chosen contentedness, you have the foundation in place, and when external circumstances reflect fortune to you, whether in the form of friendship, money or opportunity, you will be able to enjoy the happiness that comes from it.
Nobody and nothing is responsible for your contentment except you.
Not professors. Not publishers. Not family. Not followers. Not the government.
Conversely, no one can rob you of your inner peace unless you choose to allow them to.
That’s a huge responsibility, but it is the greatest power that you will ever wield – how you choose to think and how you choose to respond to each moment, regardless of what it looks like, and to remain content.
I know, it’s hard to be content when you have to go to work and that project deadline is due and you have to work overtime to meet it and your payday seems too far away and your wife isn’t talking to you because you forgot your anniversary.
But you can still choose to be content. No person or circumstance can take that from you, unless you allow them to. In fact, it is about the only thing in the world that truly have full control of and can never be taken from you – it is your birthright.
I have just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and it really got me thinking about the concept of happiness.
He was imprisoned in a concentration camp, lost his family, his life’s work and every one of his possessions and still chose to be content. Because that was his last freedom – choosing how to behave.
And I figure that if he can choose to be content while digging ditches in frozen tundra, while starving, sick and isolated with the threat of death looming over his head constantly, I figure I can choose to be content in the face of my first-world problems.
Be content, and you will be ready to receive happiness when it comes your way.
It’s just a choice.