“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.” – the opening words of the discontented Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Resigned to a new life at court for which he is decidedly unsuitable, and lamenting the new atmosphere of content following King Edward IV’s rise to the throne of England.
Richard is unhappy with his lot – destined always see his own shadow in the sun of his brother’s glory. As many will know, Richard’s dark intentions soon led to murder – lifting him to the throne of England, and of course his eventual downfall at Bosworth Field. Horse anyone?
Why am I blathering on about Shakespeare, I hear you ask?
Well, because Shakespeare’s Richard III provides us with a useful way of reconsidering ‘happiness’. Something for which we all seem to strive, and yet seldom realise.
The trouble with Happiness
Many consider that ‘happiness’ will manifest in their lives by virtue of the absence of pain. Still more believe that happiness is the inevitable outcome of karma-based living – that kindness begets kindness, essentially a system of positive self-reinforcement.
The trouble is that for most, it doesn’t work out that way. Ask anyone who has experienced a traumatic loss, and they’ll probably tell you that there was no justice in what happened.
It seems then that our common ideas of ‘happiness’ are perhaps unreachable aspirations, and this is why I wanted to write on contentment.
In understanding contentment, we must first consider intent.
Intentions are the causal impulse of every action that we humans undertake – they precede literally everything that we do, even if we are unaware of them at the time.
We also have hierarchies of intention – for example, one’s purposes (e.g., to be a Firefighter) may be considered higher intentions, and one’s goals (e.g., rescuing someone) are relatively subordinate and necessary to the fulfilment of the higher intention of being a Firefighter. Much like a footballer scores or saves a goal in order to maintain their purpose of being a footballer.
The Philosopher Aristotle taught us about two types of happiness; The first, hedonia, describing immediate sensory pleasure, or joy. The second eudaemonia, describing the satisfaction provided through personal development, growth, and self-actualisation.
It’s no surprise then that the rush of hedonic joy experienced after scoring or saving a goal is short-lived, and the player will once again return to the game plan, and try to score and experience that joy once more. Or indeed that the footballer experiences the eudaemonic satisfaction through being a footballer. Both are of course interdependent, and not separate in the sense that one enjoys one and not the other. Hedonic goals feed into eudaemonic purposes, clearly.
The name of Eudemonics may too be a little clearer now ;-)
If happiness seems unreachable, or fleeting, then idea of contentment might just be what you need. Contentment may be defined as the condition of one’s intentions being fulfilled.
Contentment is something that you can have, through doing the things that lead you to being.
Therefore, rather than specifically trying to seek happiness as something in and of itself, it’s worthwhile viewing contentment as a natural bi-product of the fulfilment of intentions.
As with Richard Duke of Gloucester’s example, you can soon become discontented if your intentions are not fulfilled, or if indeed a person, group, organisation or system suppresses or prevents the fulfilment of your intentions. Continual discontent will eventually lead to a condition of malcontent, and the feeling that the whole universe is against you.
A Closing Thought Exercise
It’s can be an interesting exercise to consider one’s own content/discontent.
For example, think of a time that you became discontent – what intention of yours was prevented or unfulfilled?
Now think about a time when you were content, what intention was being fulfilled at the time?
Can you see what I mean?