I work at a mental health charity, and by far the most common goal people would like support with is to ‘feel happier’.
I believe the popularity of this goal is due to the lack of clarity around the two-dimensional nature of happiness, along with inaccurate societal messaging about the element we should be pursuing. So, here’s my argument.
The definition of happy is ‘feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.’
However, materialist capitalism primarily promotes just one of these elements: pleasure. Money. Power. Social popularity. Achievement. Material purchases. Sensual pleasures.
“If only this… then I’d be happier” type thinking. External chasing. Consumerism. The feeling of proving your self-worth to society.
And here’s why pleasure is the unhealthier happiness: It’s short-term. Because it’s externally sourced, it can be unreliable.
It’s often associated with stress, depression and anxiety. (Making it great for the economy, and bad for our wellbeing.) Experiencing this kind of ‘happiness’ also depends on our personality, as extroverts experience more of the ‘buzz’ / dopamine bursts in response to short-term pleasures. This can leave more introverted people feeling something is wrong with them because they don’t feel ‘happy’, when in fact their happiness is mostly derived from contentment, the other element of happiness.
And contentment, I would argue, is the healthier happiness.
Being internally sourced, contentment is reliable. Contentment focuses less on ego, and more on social connection. Contentment underlies all emotions, allowing us to experience the full spectrum of what it means to be human whilst feeling an underlying sense of peace.
Because sadness, anger, envy, impatience – what we push away in our pursuit of ‘happiness’ – are always going to be there. They’re natural. They have meaning for us. And they add brightness to our positive emotions.
Contentment is accepting yourself, embracing your authenticity. Contentment provides both extroverts and introverts with long-term happiness.
Contentment is the inner, mellow, satisfied feeling we get from the buzz of pursuing our passions, feeling connected to others, and having that feeling of general satisfaction with our lives.
We can build our feelings of contentment though: our relationships; developing mindfulness; developing self-awareness and self-acceptance; acting in line with our values; and optimising our mindset. So, why not let go of the pursuit of ‘happiness’? Be more specific. Be more effective.
Consider pursuing contentment using the action points above. This is your path to optimal mental wellbeing.