These days, flowers are blossoming in varied colors and hues all around New Delhi. In the small patch of green that is attached to my house, dahlias, marigolds, roses and cinerarias are blooming. The grass is slightly dry and brown, awaiting the warmth of spring. Last weekend the sun was out, shining bright on a cool February day. As it was sunny after quite a few days, post lunch I decided to stretch out on a mat, and laze in the winter sun.
With a pillow under my head, I let the delicious warmth of the sun soak into my being. Drowsiness crept in, as I lay there. In that peaceful, somnolent state the ambient sounds drifted around. As cars whizzed past on the neighboring road, sometimes honking, at others screeching, the noise seemed to be like the ebbing and crashing of an ocean shore. Birds were twittering too, adding a sweet cacophony to the space. The mobile was inside the house, the door bell couldn’t be heard in the garden. It was simply bliss.
As I lay there lazing in the sun, tranquil and quiet, I wondered if this sense of contentment was something I could grasp in my hand and hold. After a long while I had thought of the word ‘contentment’, and it troubled me a little. How had it disappeared from my lexicon? Was contentment not the basis for a happy and successful life?
In my early fifties, I often feel that life is passing by at breakneck speed. There is still so much I think I want to do, achieve, and live. The quest for ‘more’ doesn’t seem to disappear. I want to travel, write, create memories, explore life…. Is this discontent, or is it aspiration towards my own potential? Is a lust for life a recipe for disappointment and discontent?
This quest for more is amplified many times over in younger people.The angst is expressed in many ways, coupled with a desire for instant gratification, it throws up myriad challenges. Job satisfaction, the perfect partner, getting rich, garnering likes and followers – the chase is merciless.Why was being content not a part of the narrative or something to aspire for anymore?
The pursuit of happiness, success, living the life you want, chasing your dreams – nearly all the aspiritional ideas that are propagated these days are about movement, seeking something, reaching out or working for. There is always something better out there that is to be tried for. In work, jobs, relationships and dreams. Being content with what there is often gets categorized as complacency.
The line between the two is very thin and subtle. It is more of a nuance that we give to the two words. If I am happy in my relationship with my significant other, accepting that it fulfills my needs, I am content. Where as, if constantly I do not invest in it, taking it for granted then I am being complacent. As I had read on the internet some time ago, complacency is about ‘giving up’, where as contentment is about ‘letting go’.
Is contentment a vanishing virtue, more of a theological or philosophical issue, than a pragmatic one? In our post-truth and online fueled world if you type ‘contentment’ more religious sites crop up than scholarly or self-help ones. “The science of Happiness” is a MOOC course offered on the Edx platform. Mantras for success abound, with books, courses and discourses on the topic. Why is living the ‘contented life’ not as important as the ‘successful’ or ‘happy’ one? Being okay and satisfied with what exists seems to no more be a norm that is valued.
As the cool breeze of late afternoon began to interfere with the warmth, I decided to get up. In the dwindling afternoon sun, the blooms in my garden were bathed in a golden hue. Being content with things brings peace and tranquility, as it is about acceptance. While working towards what one thinks is our potential is being not complacent. Which ultimately leads to contentment. There seems to be a circular flow, rather than opposing themes.
Had the sun muddled my brain? Nearly a week had passed. Why was I still dwelling on these things? Today when disruption is the model, fake news changes outcomes, and the real and virtual are increasingly merging, seeking contentment seems to have fallen by the way side. It needs to be brought back into the reckoning. Much like a positive outlook, determination or cheer – being content is also an attitude. An essential one to stay grounded and grow.