O Contentment, Where Art Thou?

Can anyone be happy and/or content without money?  That is the question that led to a frustrating conversation with a friend the other day.  Time, life, and experience – along with the wisdom of a certain woman whom I like to call “my wife” – has led me to believe that contentment is the treasure we should seek above happiness or wealth.  In fact, I would dare say that contentment breeds both happiness and perceived wealth.

My friend was singing the praises of money.  Now, I admit it – I like money, and I would like to have more of it.  But the notion that I would be happier with more money is nothing more than an empty promise of short-lived satisfaction.  No one, including God and the government, has ever promised us any measure of happiness – only the pursuit of it. Admittedly, I love the newness of the things my money can by, and I’ve even been known to use shopping as a form of therapy at times in my life.  That 17th long-sleeve, striped, button-down shirt sure did help me forget my troubles for a day or so.

So, what’s the difference between happiness and contentment anyway?  They are listed as synonyms in many dictionaries.  However, I have found two definitions (dictionary.com) that I believe illustrate the differences very well:

Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.”  So, basically, you have to receive or attain something in order to be happy. Granted, there are things that we receive or attain that have nothing to do with wealth or money.  A hug.  Reciprocated love.  A beautiful day.  Reaching the peak of a mountain we set out to climb.  All of these things can be received or attained without the benefit of money, and all are able to bring about happiness.

Contentment is a peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires, even though every wish may not have been gratified.”  Contentment, therefore, is not dependent upon receiving or attaining anything at all.  Instead, it is about being satisfied with what you already have.  It is also very difficult for most, including me, to experience.

I believe Sheryl Crow and co-writer Jeff Trott summed it up very nicely in her 2002 single, “Soak Up the Sun”, which states, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

So, where does money fall into this mix?  Does wealth, in and of itself, make you either happy or content?

In "The Princess Bride", the farm boy, Westley, was "poor and perfect".

Money definitely allows you to purchase whatever you want on the spot.  Based on the above definition, that shiny new BMW M3 may indeed make you happy – for now.  Money apparently can buy happiness.  However, in my experience, the more money I have, the more things I want to buy with it.  Buy me a BMW M3 and I will immediately start building a garage in which to park it.  I’m kind of like Steve Earle in this regard – “I ain’t ever satisfied.”

Contentment, on the other hand, can’t be bought.  Wealth, above and beyond our needs, is in the business of fulfilling desires.  If contentment is “a peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires”, then wealth can’t get us there.

So, can anyone be happy and/or content without money?  Of course.  Does having money make us happier?  It can, but it is usually a temporary happiness.  Does having money make us content?  Possibly, but this too is probably a temporary sensation.  Can one be poor and still be happy and/or content?  Yes.  It’s rare and difficult.  However, I believe that finding a person with these character traits, in spite of their lot in life, would be to find a person we all aspire to be in some way.

Am I splitting hairs?  Yep.  I just got so wound up when this friend seemingly put all of his faith in money.  Yes, money can open doors of opportunity that the poor house can’t begin to.  However, if you’re not content or happy now, when you don’t have wealth to speak of, then you won’t be content or happy when you get it.  In fact, if you are truly content with what little you have now, and you somehow receive a windfall in the future, you’re much more likely to give some of it away to people who need it more than you.  By contrast, if you’re a jerk when you’re poor, you’ll be a rich jerk later, and I can name a few.

As much as most of us want wealth and/or happiness, it would seem that contentment is the more elusive treasure.

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~ by suitenectar on May 21, 2010.

One Response to “O Contentment, Where Art Thou?”

  1. Can I name one of those aforementioned jerks? Please…oh, pretty please?! But, I wholeheartedly agree that money doesn’t buy happiness…but it will buy things that will later break and cause stress out of supposed need to be repaired. Life is about being content, for sure…but it’s also about building positive relationships…and those true friends with whom we have positive relationships will not care if we have lots of money, or barely a pot in which to pee.

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