“True happiness is to understand our duties toward God and man; to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future. Not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears, but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is abundantly sufficient.” ~Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
We all want contentment.
To be content is to be happy with what you have, to look upon your life and feel no envy, no bitterness, but simply a calm acceptance of what is and an elation of all the blessings therein.
This is the goal of every human being, whether they know it or not, because the only reason we strive forward is because we see our present state as being not enough, of being insufficient to our ambitions — we see something in the future that draws us. And in the fruition of that glittering image is contentment — knowing that we have done what we set out to do, that we did well.
In this day and age our view of what is enough has changed. The world is a small place filled with big and in most cases irrelevant things, and the more you are bombarded with the messages of society the more you desire.
People chase riches, fame, possessions — all fine things, when pursued properly — but the problem is when you tie your happiness to the attainment of these things. As long as you don’t have them, you will not truly be happy — and only because you have made yourself believe that to be the case.
“Any man,” says Epicurus, “who does not think that what he has is more than ample, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the whole world.”
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the great Roman philosopher, often made the case in his letters against lavish living and the tying of contentment to transient pleasures that had swept over the Roman people. It was clear to him then, as it is to us today, that relying on such things for happiness is like building a house on sand.
“What fortune has made yours is not your own.”
All these things can be taken away in an instant. And all you will have left is yourself. What, then, is the true place to build the foundations of happiness?
“What you have to understand is that thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold does . . . Reflect that nothing merits admiration except the spirit . . .”
It is in the spirit, and the mind, that happiness is attained (as many people say nowadays, it is a conscious decision one has to make daily). It does not dependent on what is beyond it.
There have been happy people in the worst of places, and miserable people in the best. Under thatch roofs laughter, under golden roofs despair, and vice versa; mere things, mere objects, these fickle distractions away from the true measure of our humanity, are ultimately powerless.
But we have been sold a bill of goods that says otherwise. We grow up in a society that praises these things, while good character and a sound mind are given only passing glances. One needs to go against the tide. And, more importantly, one must not live for things alone, but for others:
“ There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.”
In this world of distractions, of material pleasures and illusions of what the good life really is, remember that lasting happiness is something you possess irrespective of your circumstances.
Seneca puts it well in his own words to himself:
“Such pleasures are insubstantial and unreliable; even if they don’t do one any harm, they’re fleeting in character. Look around for some enduring good instead. And nothing answers this description except what the spirit discovers for itself within itself. A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness. Even if some obstacle to this comes on the scene, its appearance is only to be compared to that of clouds which drift in front of the sun without ever defeating its light.”
In the pursuit of wisdom is the true understanding of what contentment really is — and how to live a happy life with what you already have. A foolish person who ties all of his happiness to that which will never return it will suffer all his life without ever having tasted true contentment.
“Only the wise man is content with what is his. All foolishness suffers the burden of dissatisfaction with itself.”
Let us not be foolish. Let us not suffer this dissatisfaction with our own poor mindsets. Instead, let us pursue wisdom, and cultivate the character which derives contentment from within.
When we do this, life will be fuller, and all we set out to do will glow all the more. For when you are happy before attaining a goal, all the more will that goal be drawn towards you.
Success, the good life, all of it flows towards the one who is first good within — in mind, body and soul.
You can do it.