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JEFFREY TOBIN: Sad truth about happiness

by on April 14, 2013 1:40 AM

Happiness. Everyone, including me, wants it. Once our basic needs for nourishment, shelter and clothing are met, happiness is the next natural desire. But now I’m not so sure that happiness is the right goal. And in the next few minutes of reading, you may question it as well. Is happiness what you really want? Perhaps not.

An argument can be made that our drive to achieve happiness is why we go to work each day. Oh, it’s not necessarily work that makes us happy; it is what we get in return for our efforts that we use to achieve more happiness. Perhaps for you this comes in the form of money in the bank, more time with friends and relatives, better health, a nicer vacation, finding a life partner, time for a hobby or preparation for retirement. Whatever it is, happiness is something we wish to achieve. And employment is our path.

But now I’m not so sure about all of this. Why? Because I believe there’s something better than happiness: contentment.

I don’t want happiness. I want contentment.

In our Western civilization, happiness is almost always something external we wish to add to our lives. But contentment isn’t found on the outside. It’s only found inside. Think about this: In places around the globe, many people who have nothing but their very basic needs met are somehow content. How can this be? Because contentment doesn’t rely on external circumstances.

Happiness is always hungry for more happiness. Contentment has no appetite.

Contentment is an inner peace, an ease of mind. It is, as the “World English Dictionary” puts it, being “mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.” And contentment is not determined by one’s circumstances.

It is not dependent upon income, education or even health. One author writes of the Hebrew word, “shalom,” as “a feeling of … completeness, wholeness, well-being and harmony.” I’m in! Who wants to be happy when one can be content?

Happiness seeks.

Contentment is.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t wish to spend my working life chasing after the moving target of happiness. That’s like chasing the horizon.

I want to be productive in my work, but I won’t want to produce solely for the sake of external comforts. I wish to be content.

It would be nice if I could create a list of three or four sure-fire methods by which you might achieve contentment. It’s not within my ability.

But that’s not the reason I wrote this article for you, anyway. My purpose here is to cause you to think differently about what you truly want. So rather than answers, I leave you with three interesting questions:

-- Do you want happiness, or do you want contentment?

-- What would real contentment feel like for you?

-- How can you get there?

Give these questions some serious consideration and I’ll be more than happy. I’ll be content.

Jeffrey Tobin, an international speaker and business coach. He is also the owner of Henry Hall Office Products in Indiana and hosts the website His professional advocacy columns appear Sundays in the Business section of The Indiana Gazette and the Community News page on The Indiana Gazette Online.
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