Contentment is largely a popular word, that every one of us can give subjective definition to, as it appears and happens to us. It is not strange or even anywhere near unpopular in our use of words, as we speak or hear, in our everyday lives. It is a phenomenon that encompasses our overall attitude in reaction to all of the things that happen (or do not happen) in our lives; you cannot be contented partially, you are either contented with your life or not contented with it.
Most English dictionaries, including Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, Merriam Webster and Collins English Dictionary, define contentment as a feeling of being happy and satisfied, with the Cambridge Dictionary including “because you have everything you need” as the causal clause of that feeling of contentment. Thus, contentment is simply that feeling of being pleased and satisfied with what you have of life, which is all you need to lead a happy life.
There is a great connection between contentment and happiness, as many researchers and psychologists such as Gary Rekeker, Mariano Rojas, and Ruut Veenhoven, have submitted, and as such, we are assured of the need to feel content with and about our lives in order to be happy with it: that is most probably how every one of us view contentment too. We all know the importance of contentment to our happy living, but how many of us are really living sincerely with that feeling of contentment?
Some of us would see the addition in the definition by Cambridge as a justification of our dissatisfaction towards the events of our individual lives: it says we can only be content when we have ALL of the things we NEED, right? The terrible mistake we make in comprehending that statement is that we confuse NEED with WANT as we continue to interchange their meanings in our everyday use of language. Okay, maybe it is slowly unfolding before you now: there is actually a pronounced difference between the two, such as you would not want to say “I want to eat right now” when you’re basically famished when instead, it should be “I need to eat right now”, and, it wouldn’t be so appropriate to think you need to buy a car when you are not absolutely in need of it: but, that’s what we actually say, right? I need to buy that car, I need to buy that house, I need to impress that lady, I need to show them, I need to… which makes it seem like our needs are actually endless, whereas, it is really not so when we return to face the reality.
Your needs are those things you absolutely need, because, they are by themselves essential to your survival (such as food, shelter and clothing). And, as an extension of this, your wants are those things you desire because they would make your survival more pleasant and interesting (such as cars, fame, popularity, and all extras of the basics). Simply, we can all see that our needs can easily be catered for, while our wants as humans are limitless: the more you get, the more you want! Humans are naturally created greedy of course, so, that is understandable. Allah says in Suratul Isra Q17:67 “…and man is ever ungrateful.”
The big question is: Should our Endless Wants be a Reason to our Unhappy Living?
Having established that our unhappiness is only a manifestation of a lack of contentment, you need to know if there is any situation that is worth stealing away your happiness, after all, that is all “wanting more” and not being able to feel “okay” with what you have. It is absolutely normal that you feel that way: you are only being human, remember? While some people have a firm hold on their emotions and can put off the feeling of sadness (usually stemmed from envy and jealousy) that emerges upon their realization of the next person having what they do not have (but would love to have), some of us cannot do that, and hence, we live a few (or many) more days feeling sad and bad about ourselves, grumbling and swearing at every little discomfort, albeit secretly or openly.
Having contentment does not translate to not feeling pains or discomfort at unpleasant happenings, but, it is being able to stop oneself from lamenting endlessly about such things, bearing such happenings with utmost patience and hope, and sincerely convincing oneself that there will always come better things/times, sooner or later.
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A lot of factors contribute to our contentment or lack of it, one of the most prevalent being the societal unrealistic expectations and unfair standards of quantifying one’s success or failure. We all want to live with respect from the people around us, without slanderous gossips about how wretched and pathetic our living situations are, how bad our school results are, how tattered our clothes and shoes are, how cheap our appearances are, how fat we look, how thin we look, how dark our skin colours are… among other things that people derive joy in discussing at others’ backs, which usually hurt our feelings and get us brooding, more times than not.
There was probably a time you left the house all bubbly and cheerful, and then, you get to your friends and you got to a point in your conversations when someone says, “what’s even making you laugh about your own life? You never have money to contribute when we make group contributions, and you still open your mouth to talk when people like us are talking…” or a scenario similar to that. How did that make you feel? Forced you to ponder over that miserable life they say you’re living without shame? Forced you to remember the number of times you had sat at a corner in your darkroom crying hard and seeking help from your Lord? Forced you to question the essence of your existence when it’s so hard for you to even survive? Forced you to compare yourself to your other friends who seem to have “better” lives by no power or might of theirs?
You see, a lot of times, and more often than not, the feeling of discontentment is forced on us by others, and then we get lost in the garden of lost hope, letting the gloom consume us so that we get lost to never be found, or maybe found almost too late. At other times, we are the ones who allow ourselves to get lost in wandering thoughts, putting ourselves up against unfair yardsticks and embittering our minds at how much we don’t measure up.
When you look at your friend who is more sociable than you are, then, you feel terrible and wonder why it’s not you everyone wants to befriend, or you think about how eloquent your friend is and wonder why you’re not that good too, or you are beside your friend who keeps getting compliments from people while you’re there getting no attention and wish someone would throw you some compliments too or they would just stop dotting on your friend… these are evidence of your feeling of discontentment with your life, truths that reveal that you are not pleased enough with your own life, you still feel unsatisfied with your truths and wish you had other than what you currently have.
It is okay to feel this kind of things once in a while, then remind yourself that there are people who really have much less than you have and are still pushing with great hopes in a better future; having that feeling once in a while doesn’t show you as discontent with the decree of the Almighty over your life, but, having those thoughts and the sinking feeling that accompanies it more than “rarely” steals from you all too much than you should be willing to sacrifice.
Now, should your endless wants steal from you the chance to a happy and contented life? You should be able to answer that truthfully and act accordingly henceforth…
Be glad living your life for yourself; avoid unhealthy comparisons and people who make them; make the best of the little you have and lower your expectations and aspirations; develop a positive optimistic thinking; be more active and keep yourself busy doing what you love and enjoy doing, as a means of contributing actively to the world; stop worrying over the “should have beens”, and finally, always spread that radiating happiness to all and sundry, killing every feeling of inferiority that arises whenever you see someone who is “more” than you in whatever way. Never forget that you are the best version of yourself, and you are just as good as your unique person can be; get cool in your own skin!
As a Muslim, you should always remember that contentment is closely related to an article of faith, which is the belief in Predestination (Qadar) (Al-Qamar 54:49), as it requires you to accept that: whatever happens to you has been destined by the One who determines all occurrences (Al-Hadīd 57:22) and He can never be subject to questioning (Al-Anbiyā’ 21:23). Hence, you need to ensure that you remind yourself, in the face of unpleasant occurrences or even disappointing comparisons and disparaging remarks, that your Lord is never unjust to a soul (Al-Kahf 18:49) and does for you only that which is best for you! Strive to achieve contentment in all of your endeavours, and ensure for yourself that your life will only be filled with joy and gladness, because you will always be glad for whatever comes your way, and all else that misses it (Hadīth 19 of An-Nawawi).