Advanced search

Thoughts on contentment?

(11 Posts)
madhairday Thu 11-Jul-13 19:03:31

What would you say contentment is?

What's the difference between contentment and happiness? I'm thinking this through at the moment, and think contentment is more to do with how you face up to things than what is happening around you. Or can contentment only be gained when things are going well?

What does Paul mean by 'learning the secret to being content' in Philippians 4?

Lots of questions I know! I'm doing some writing around this atm and it's a really interesting topic which I thought some MNers could shed some light on.

Would be interested in thoughts, religious or not!

Fragglewump Thu 11-Jul-13 19:29:11

To me contentment is a more centred and stable feeling than happiness. If reflects my feelings about my 'overall lot' what I have achieved, who is in my life etc. For much of my life I have not really felt content - but now at 42 in a great marriage with happy kids and no real 'lack' in my life I feel content! Happiness is much less permanent and I can feel happy and sad withing the space of hours but still have contentment in the background. Hope that helps!

Optimist1 Thu 11-Jul-13 19:58:56

Beautifully put, Fraggle!

madhairday Fri 12-Jul-13 10:09:51

Thankyou Fraggle. I know what you mean about happiness being a much more fleeting thing, and contentment being a more steady underlying feeling. Lovely description.

Tuo Fri 12-Jul-13 11:35:30

Hi MHD. I also agree with Fraggle that contentment is more a state of being, while happiness is more often a response to a specific set of circumstances, and may be shorter-lived, or at least more variable in strength. I've had friends who've been depressed, and it has been very clear from talking to them that their feelings are very different from 'bog standard unhappiness', even compared to times in my life when I've felt very unhappy for a sustained period of time. I kind of wonder if contentment is, somehow, the reverse of that?

We also need to remember that 'to be content' also has the meaning of 'to put up with'. It may now be a slightly old-fashioned usage (I'm hearing in my head a slightly Jane Austen-ish sentence like 'Not having found a suitor to marry her, she contented herself with her embroidery' grin ) but I think that the meaning is still somewhere contained in the word.

And it seems to me that this is what Paul intends in Philippians 4. I've just looked at the 'Blue Letter Bible' website, which allows you to compare different translations, and most have something like 'I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances'; in other words, I can put up with anything [because of my faith]. Is that right?

The Vulgate translation here, interestingly, has 'enim didici in quibus sum sufficiens esse': roughly translated, for I have learnt to be satisfied in whatever state I am (sufficio - to be sufficient, to suffice, avail for, meet the need of, satisfy, according to Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary).

I don't read Greek, but Google is my friend grin, and it looks as if the Greek equivalent is αὐτάρκης [autarkes], which is defined, interestingly, as 'self-sufficient, independent, content'.

In relation to what I know about (medieval - so very feasibly not at all relevant to what you're interested in) discussions of Christian morality, this is an important idea, because the lack of contentment in this sense can lie at the basis of any/all of the Seven Deadly Sins. A lack of contentment with one's place in the world and a sense that one deserves more than one receives = Pride; a lack of contentment with what one has, in comparison to what others have = Envy; a lack of contentment caused by a perceived sense of wrong done to one by others = Wrath; a gloomy resignation caused by a lack of contentment with one's lot and a sense of not being able to do anything about it = Sloth; a lack of contentment with what one has, in terms of material possessions, leading to acquisitiveness = Avarice; a lack of contentment with merely sufficient food/drink leading to excessive indulgence = Gluttony; a lack of contentment within the limits of pre-marital chastity and faithfulness within marriage = Lust.

And the distinction between contentment and happiness is also relevant to ideas about Christian eschatology, where contentment (willing acceptance of our condition in the here-and-now) is fulfilled in the true happiness of eternity. This is implicit (and possibly even explicit, but I'd need to go back to the text and check) in Augustine's distinction between the City of God in Heaven (which is perfectly happy) and the City of God on pilgrimage in this life, which has perforce to cooperate with the City of Man and therefore is, at best, merely content.

Oops... I appear to have gone on a bit! blush Hope this is useful anyway.

Tuo Fri 12-Jul-13 11:37:16

Hahaha! Should NOT have attempted to C&P Greek characters! Sorry about that!

crescentmoon Fri 12-Jul-13 14:02:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sarahtigh Fri 12-Jul-13 21:36:16

contentment is more than putting up with present situation it is acceptance of it and willingness for it to continue as such it does not mean not working towards better things but rather if work does not bring better things you will still not be disgruntled it means giving up entirely on comparing yourselves with the jones wondering where you are on the relative or actual scales of poverty

when Paul states "I have learned whatsoever state i am in, therein to be content" phil 4:11 he was writing from prison or possibly house arrest in Rome

an acceptance that even in the worst of times bereavement grief etc, we have the Lord as saviour, friend rock etc and our eternal destiny is secure this was said when death for your faith was a distinct possibility and still be content you can not be happy going through a bereavement but you can be content

also Hebrew 13:5-6 "keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have for He ( GOD) has said 'I will never leave you or forsake you ' so we can confidently say the Lord is my helper I will not fear; what can people do to me?'"

the attitude of contentment requires working on we have to learn to be content because we generally have a tendency to whine and moan and be discontented so we actively have to fight this and clothe ourselves with the virtue of contentment

Tuo Fri 12-Jul-13 23:53:50

Totally agree with that sarahtigh... That was kind of behind what I was trying to say with my '7 Deadly Sins' idea...

I just found this prayer which sums up a similar kind of idea of the danger of contentment turning into complacency:

Disturb us Lord when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us Lord when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life. Having fallen in love with life we have ceased to dream of eternity. And in our efforts to build a new earth we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us Lord to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery, where losing sight of land we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes, and to push into the future in strength and courage.

madhairday Sun 14-Jul-13 15:18:04

Thanks so much for your thoughts! Tuo that is really interesting about the 7 deadly sins, and completely fits into my thinking on it, and I love the prayer (can I nick it for a talk I'm doing?!) I've also come across the Greek translation as 'self sufficient' but the original meaning is not self sufficiency in a stoic kind of 'get on with it and stiff upper lip' sense but more finding it within ourselves in our faith in God to cope with these things and to achieve contentment in adverse circumstances.

I also think Jesus is a great model for true contentment - if we look at his life and words we can find ways we can be like this - humility, looking out for others, listening, compassion, etc etc - and finding time to be with God.

Tuo Sun 14-Jul-13 21:33:23

Hi MHD... feel free to nick the prayer, though I can't remember where I first saw it. (There's an SPCK website of 'classic prayers' which is where I thought it was, but I've just looked and it's not there...). I guess that the 'Serenity' prayer is kind of in the same vein (only shorter!), isn't it?

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now