Finding the Sunny Side of Life

 
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What is contentment? Ever since I saw Christopher Robin and wrote a blog post about the simple wisdom of Pooh Bear (see post here), that question has circled through my mind frequently. 

When I looked up the word contentment, the definition sounded quite simple. It’s a state of happiness or satisfaction. However, I found a definition that expounds on this to a degree that sheds light on the true nature of contentment. 

According to The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, there are two facets to what contentment is: 

  1. That degree of happiness which consists in being satisfied with present conditions; a quiet, uncomplaining, satisfied mind: content. 
  2. Gratification, or means of gratification; satisfaction

What makes The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia such a great resource (it really is; if you haven’t explored it, you’re in for a treat) is that it provides comprehensive etymological understanding. The expanded definition of contentment in The Century entry arrested me:  

Contentment is passive.

Passive? Grammatically, I’m familiar with the passive tense. Apparently, if modern trends are to be appreciated, it’s a tense we all should shun. But there’s more to passive than that. 

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The word passive comes from the Latin passivus which means serving to express the suffering of an action. Suffering? Now, I don’t know about you, but suffering is not something that sounds anywhere near to my understanding of contentment. So, I looked it up. Rather, I looked up the word suffer from whence suffering derived. 

Suffer: To endure; support bravely or unflinchingly; sustain; bear up under. 

Endure. Support. Brave. Unflinching. Sustained. Bear up under. These are not weak attributes. They require strength. 

Let’s go back to the first definition of contentment again:

A degree of happiness which consists in being satisfied with present conditions. 

A degree is a portion of something, a part of a whole; it is not the entirety. Therefore, contentment doesn’t require all, just part. Part of what?

Well, happiness. Defining happiness is something the greatest philosophers of the ages struggled with, so I will just quote the Enlightenment thinker John Locke from his work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Happiness… in its full extent, is the utmost pleasure we are capable of.

So contentment is a portion of the utmost pleasure we are capable of. Hmmm?

But, there’s more. That degree of happiness consists in something. The word consist comes from the Latin consistere which means to stand firm and exist inherently in something. In what? Being satisfied, of course. 

Being is the present participle of the verb be, which defines as to exist. Being is in the progressive tense, meaning it’s something occurring continually. The Latin words satis and facere combine to form satisfy. Satis means enough, sufficient; the verb facere means to make, to create, to build, to bring forth. When something is being satisfied, it is existing continually where there is enough. And where is that place? It’s in the present.

Present. Here and now. Current. Where you are at this moment. 

Contentment is about rejoicing in the present. That’s where the second part of contentment’s definitions comes in:  

Gratification, or means of gratification; satisfaction

Gratification derives from the Latin gratus meaning thankful. Contentment is thankfulness for your current portion. It’s about giving thanks.

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Contentment is rooted in hope. It’s celebrating the piece of happiness you have, but also anticipating the next piece and the next. Part of your current thanksgiving is that there’s still more you can dream about and achieve. It’s not about giving up on your dreams. It’s about resting from the toil, like the lilies of the field do.

That’s where the passive comes in. This sort of contentment is an act of endurance. It’s an act of bravery. It’s a stance requiring strength and fortitude. It’s bearing up under the stabs of disappointment. It’s being sustained through delays and waiting periods when you just wish everything would fall into place already. It’s deciding to stand firm in what you have already and exist in that place with joy and expectation that the satisfaction you feel in part will only grow more and more. 

Contentment is a choice. We decide. We can complain and wallow in our misery- which will only draw more of the same to us, as misery does love company. Or we can decide to bear up under the slings and arrows and find our measure of happiness regardless of the circumstances. Contentment is finding the silver lining. I like how Jerome Kern and Bud De Sylva wrote it in their song, Look for the Silver Lining

There are many versions of this song, but as the great Aretha Franklin has so recently departed, I thought I’d choose her version. It’s excellent, y’all.

Remember somewhere the sun is shining
So the right thing to do is make it shine for you
A heart full of joy and gladness
Will always banish sadness and strife
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life

So what say you, dear readers, wanna find the sunny side of life with me? 

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