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Contentment is the acknowledgement and satisfaction of reaching capacity. The level of capacity reached may be sought after, expected, desired, or simply predetermined as the level in which provides contentment.
Many religions have some form of eternal bliss or heaven as their apparent goal often contrasted with eternal torment or dissatisfaction. The source of all mentally created dissatisfaction appears to stem from the ability to compare and contrast experiences and find reality as one is living it to be less than ideal. Many religions believe this was caused by man eating of the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man's eyes were "opened" to know the distinction between good and evil(Genesis 3:5). The solution is to seek out ways to either make experienced reality conform to the ideal and/or to lower expectations to the level of the experienced. When one can live in the moment with expectations in harmony with experiences one has achieved the greatest mental contentment possible. Variants of this pursuit are found in many religions and manifest in forms of meditation and prayerful devotions.
The American philosopher, Robert Bruce Raup wrote a book Complacency:The Foundation of Human Behavior (1925) in which he claimed that the human need for complacency (i.e. inner tranquility) was the hidden spring of human behavior. Dr. Raup made this the basis of his pedagogical theory, which he later used in his severe criticisms of the American Education system of the 1930s.
Exploring The Idea of Contentment Through the Lens of Positive Psychology:
In many ways, Contentment, which can be defined as the state of being satisfied, can be closely associated with the concept of happiness. In Positive Psychology social scientists study what might contribute to living a good life, or what would lead to people having increased positive mood and overall satisfaction with their life. Happiness, in Positive Psychology, is defined in a twofold manner, which in totality is referred to as Subjective Well-Being. How much positive emotion (Positive Affect) as opposed to negative emotion (Negative Affect) does a person have, and how does one view one's life overall(global satisfaction) are the questions asked in Positive Psychology to determine Happiness. Maybe Contentment could be more associated or closely related to a person's level of satisfaction with his/her life (global satisfaction), but nevertheless the idea of Contentment is certainly intertwined in the concept of what makes people happy. Positive Psychology finds it very important to study what contributes to people being happy and to people flourishing, and finds it just as important to focus on the constructive ways in which people function and adapt, as opposed to the general field of psychology which focuses more on what goes wrong or is pathological with human beings.
Variables that Contribute to Happiness in the Research:
Satisficer vs. Maximizer
These are two concepts that define the ways in which people make choices. A Satisficer is a person who will make a decision once his/her criteria is met, and a Maximizer, on the other hand, won't make a decision until every possible option is explored. It might be intuitive to see how the research has shown that being a Satisficer is positively associated with happiness, and being a Maximizer is negatively associated with happiness.
Genes and Happiness
This may be a harsh reality for some to accept, but just as a 'depressive brain' can be inherited, there is a strong relationship between happiness and genes (or the happy brain, if you will). Happiness is 50% heritable. There is a genetic set point that each person has inherited and although people may fluctuate from that set point, based on negative experiences that they may encounter, they will come back to that level of happiness that they were genetically predisposed to having.
Personality and Happiness
Through factor analysis, personality has been narrowed down to the theory called the Big Five Factor, which are these five aspects of heritable personality traits: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Research has shown that personality is 50% heritable. There are two aspects of personality which are related to happiness. There is a strong relationship between Extraversion and happiness, in that the more extraverted a person is (or behaves in fact) the more happy he/she will be. The other aspect of personality which has a strong relationship to happiness is the genetic predisposition to Neuroticism. The more neurotic (emotionally unstable) a person is, the more likely he/she is to be unhappy.
Goal Pursuits and Happiness
Reaching goals that are important to you and that are in alignment with your personality, can contribute to your feelings of confidence and mastery. It is important to establish goals that are neither too easy or too hard, but that are optimally challenging. It is also important to note that investing energy in avoiding goals will contribute to diminishing happiness as well as deter one from reaching one's goals, which can be quite intuitive to understand.
Money and Happiness
Many people strongly associate money with happiness, and they believe that being rich will contribute greatly to making them happier, and we see that this idea is increasing as the American society reflects this growing materialism. Although wealth is associated with some positive outcomes, i.e.,lighter prison sentences for the same crime, better health, and lower infant mortality, and can act as a buffer in certain instances, as mentioned previously, the overall relationship between money and happiness is marginal. That is that, beyond a low threshold where the basic needs are met, money has a very small impact on happiness. There is also the concept of the Diminishing Marginal Utility of Income(DMUI), which is that money has no effect on happiness once a certain income level has been reached, and which represents wealth and happiness as having a curvilinear relationship.
Some of the earliest references to the state of contentment are found in the reference to the midah (personal attribute) of Samayach B’Chelko. The expression comes from the word samayach (root Sin-Mem-Chet) meaning "happiness, joy or contentment", and chelko (root Chet-Lamed-Kuf) meaning "portion, lot, or piece", and combined mean contentment with one’s lot in life. The attribute is referred to in the Mishnahic source which says
“Ben Zoma said: Who is rich? Those who are happy with their portion.”
The origins of contentment in Jewish culture reflect an even older thinking reflected in the Book of Proverbs which says,
A joyful heart makes a cheerful face; A sad heart makes a despondent mood. All the days of a poor person are wretched, but contentment is a feast without end.
Who seeks more than he needs, hinders himself from enjoying what he has. Seek what you need and give up what you need not. For in giving up what you don’t need, you’ll learn what you really do need.
|“||Truly, it is in the remembrance of Allah(God) that hearts can find contentment||”|
—Quran - 13:29
This verse reveals that the more the people gain the trivial goods of this life, the greater becomes the hunger and the consequent burning of their heart. But as for those who seek God, the more they turn to Him, the greater is their peace of mind. This means that a search for the divine or a supreme Deity is inherent within human nature and the innermost yearning of a human being. The real and ultimate goal of a person's life.
|“||If the son of Adam (the human being) were given a valley full of riches, he would love to have a second one; and if he were given the second one, he would love to have a third, for nothing satisfies the belly of Adam's son except dust (of the grave). And Allah forgives he who repents (turns) to Him.||”|
—Saheeh Bukhari-Vol 8:book76
In a Buddhist sense, it is the freedom from anxiety, want, or need. Contentment is the goal behind all goals because once achieved there is nothing to seek until it is lost. A living system cannot maintain contentment for very long as complete balance and harmony of forces means death. Living systems are a complex dance of forces which find a stability far from balance. Any attainment of balance is quickly met by rising pain which ends the momentary experience of satisfaction or contentment achieved. Buddha's task was to find the solution to this never-ending descent into dissatisfaction or Dukkha. The Buddhist faith is based on the belief that he succeeded.
- Selig man, Martin; Michal Csikszentmilhalyi (January 2000). "Positive Psychology". American Psychologist 54 (1): 5–10.
- Selig man, Martin; Michal Csikszentmihalyi (January 2000). "Positive Psychology". American Psychologist 54 (1): 5–10.
- Schwartz, Barry|coauthors=Ward, Andrew;Lyubomirsky, Sonja;Monterosso,John;White, Katherine Maximizing Versus Satisficing:Happiness Is a Matter of Choice Journal of Personality & Social Psychology|year=2002|month=November|volume=83|issue=5|pages=1178-1197
- Lykken, David; Tellegen, Auke (3). "Happiness Is A Stochastic Phenomenon". Psychological Science 7 (3): 186–189.
- Weiss, Alexander; Bates, Timothy;Luciano, Michelle (March 2008). "Happiness Is A Personal(ity) Thing:The Genetics of Personality and Well-Being in a Representative Sample". Psychological Science 19 (3): 205–210. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02068.x. PMID 18315789.
- Sheldon, K.M.; Elliot, A.J (1999). "Goal Striving, Need Satisfaction, and Longitudinal Well-Being:The Self-Concordance Model". Journal Of Personality and Social Psychology 76: 482–497.
- Wilkinson (1996). Unhealthy Societies:The Afflictions of Inequality.
- Veenhoven, Ruut (1991). "Is Happiness Relative?". Social Indicators Research 24: 1–34.
- Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 32a also found in Pirkei Avot 4:1
- Proverbs 15:13 and 15, Rabbi Meir Leibush (Malbim)
- Mivhar Hapeninim 155,161 as found in The Jewish Moral Virtues, Borowitz and Schwartz, p.164
- Borowitz, Eugene B. & Weinman Schwartz, Frances, The Jewish Moral Virtues, Jewish Publication Society, 1999
- Meir Leibush (Malbim), Rabbi, translated by Charles Wengrov and Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Malbim on Mishley: The Book of Proverbs in Hebrew & English, Feldheim, 2001
- Fohrman, David & Kasnett, Nesanel, Rabbis, editors, Babylonian Talmud Volume 3, Shabbat 32a, Volume I, ArtScroll / Mesorah, 1999
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