Tor Constantino is no quitter, but he’s giving up on happiness. He’s pursuing something better …
Don’t get me wrong, the “… pursuit of happiness …” is very quotable, it sounds great and looks great on paper—especially when that paper happens to be the Declaration of Independence, which is where the phrase can be found and was signed into existence by our forefathers.
However, as a father myself, it was actually my two preteen daughters who started to change my thinking regarding the topic of happiness.
Every evening we strive to gather around our dinner table as a family—a family comprising my wife of nearly 20 years as well as our two girls and toddler son.
During our daily dinner discussions we play a game we call “highs and lows” where we each share something positive that occurred that day and something that could have gone better. Sometimes those conversations take a different direction, where my wife and I ask the kids pointblank if they are “happy.”
Without providing them a preconceived, structured definition of what “happiness” means—we allow them to interpret happiness for themselves.
It turns out that their mixed responses vary a great deal depending on who played with them during recess; how they did on a test at school; what was served at lunch; who they sat with on the bus; whether a favorite toy was missing … etc.
To my young daughters, happiness appears to be a conditional and transitional state of being that’s linked to ever-shifting external circumstances.
It’s hard to ignore that the founders of the country seemed to link happiness to externals as well, since their concept of happiness was predicated by a necessary “pursuit” that implies some unsecured future state that somehow holds more promise than today.
Based on these anecdotal observations and conversations with our girls, it seems that happiness is highly variable and volatile based on a bunch of external factors. Also, happiness does not seem to have any consistent, uniform application across all areas of life.
For example, our daughters might express a high degree of happiness about a strong math grade they received or a friendship they have, while they might be extremely unhappy about an upcoming writing assignment or a family obligation that prevents them attending a school-sponsored party or event.
Happiness is lumpy at best.
Additionally, our kids seem to be completely neutral to the fact that they have more than enough food, shelter, warm bedding, clothing (good Lord do they have clothing), toys, books, electronic devices…etc—not to mention the point that they also belong to a loving, stable family.
While the vast majority of people in the rest of the world are lacking in at least one of these external conditions, these positive familial factors don’t seem to drive a state of blissful happiness for our daughters but are rather taken for granted.
Happiness is highly subjective. This view of happiness is not unique to preteen girls.
In particular, our western society and capitalist system is geared toward an aggressive pursuit of happiness that never ends. We are bombarded by media messages that if we buy a certain car we’ll be more manly; if we drink a type of beer we’ll be more satisfied; if we wear certain clothes we’ll be more powerful; if we use a certain dating site we’ll be more fulfilled; if we lose weight, reverse our male-pattern baldness or take a pill for ED we will finally be—happy.
Personally, I have fallen into that same trap of “pursuit”—perhaps more commonly known as the Rat Race—where I consciously and unconsciously link my happiness to the pursuit of a certain job; a certain salary level; a certain job title; a certain size house; completing another graduate degree or any other number of random boxes that need to be checked to solve the calculus of happiness.
However, dinner discussions with my daughters have helped me realize that I can’t solve for happiness.
I have since decided that a more meaningful and achievable goal is “…life, liberty and contentment.” For me the ideal of contentment suggests a stable and unmoving state of being that is linked to internal factors rather than externals.
There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Contentment, a sense of inward sufficiency, with godliness is great and abundant gain.” (I Timothy 6:6).
The fact is, happiness and contentment are quite different. It seems to take more work to be happy than to be content.
It seems that striving to be happy requires a constant state of frenzied activity to achieve something you don’t have, while being content is an intentional choice to be thankful for what you’ve got.
Based on our western societal mores and culture, happiness is reached tomorrow but contentment can be chosen today.
Between these two options, I think that a life of contentment is a better life to pursue than a life of happiness.
Question: Are you more interested in a life of happiness or a life of contentment—why?
Photo—Thomas G. Fiffer