Happiness vs. Contentment


All my life I've heard talk about the "American Dream" and being able to get everything one wanted just by working for it. Then in later life, riddled with debt, helping out children who were "drowned" job-wise in the tanking of the economy a couple of years back, and struggling to keep up the basic bills while dreaming of eventually paying back all we owe, I begin to think that the American Dream stuff may work for some, but not for us "paycheck to paycheck" people who made the mistake of getting ahead with the dozens of free offers of credit that came so easily in the mail for years. As with many people, my husband and I were still working in fulltime jobs, and keeping up with everything well, until his plant went under and all employees were let go. That is when it became so easy to fall into the credit-debt trap that is now having its consequences not only on us, but on all areas of the economy. We had finally begun to rise from the ashes and handle things again, until the mid-2000s when other family issues erupted, necessitating helping with funds in personal areas, and having little to put on the credit cards. Then the worst happened--the downfall of the American economy a couple of years ago with its subsequent layoffs and business closings. As with many Americans, we were caught up in that, to the extent that we went "Walton-style", having all family, including children, grandchildren, and pets living together. Again, the basic bills were being paid, although in shorter amounts and more often, but again, old credit bills went by the wayside.

Why am I describing all of this, and what does it have to do with my title? In retrospect, I know that quite alot of the debt was mine. My husband spends very little; that is not "his thing". However, from the 1990s onward, especially when our children became young teenagers, and dad's plant had closed and the job he later got paid 1/3 of his previous salary, I became very conscious of a need in me to have my kids have what the other kids in their classes had. I equated the "Dream" or happiness to stuff--quite often stuff they did not need. Things like "brand name" clothes, shoes, accessories came into this category. Allowing them to do all the activities their friends did was a major thing for me, and so I needed another card to get cash off of, etc. to fulfill these requirements. I had to buy everything they needed to do everything they wanted to do. I could always rationalize my latest purchases. AS a matter of fact, I still can. I think the one I use the most is, "It will never be this cheap again, so I need to buy one of every color", and so on.

See, the problem with happiness is, it is bound up so much in the moment. I am happy NOW because I just got this great gift, or this great buy, or ate this great lunch, and so on. But happiness is fleeting, a very temporal thing. And happiness can be addictive, because it is so much fun to be happy that we keep reaching for it in bigger and better ways. One rose isn't enough...let's go for a dozen. So now what I aim to achieve in a life messed up for 55 years is contentment.

Content encompasses all of life. The Apostle Paul in the New Testament of the Bible, said that he had learned in whatever state he was in to be content. And no, he didn't mean North or South Carolina; he meant that in all circumstances of life, whether he was full or hungry, etc. to be content. To just be OK with what he had at the moment. He enjoyed having food, clothing and all that, and he was always greatful for the gifts he was sent from his many church families, he just knew that sometimes in life there will be times which are not so great. In those times, be contented that you have clothes to wear, whether or not there is a designer's name on the fanny, and be content with meatloaf if you can't afford a ribeye steak. There will always be those among us who have nothing, and we need to try to help them as well. They are the ones who will truly need help. If we have the basic necessities, then we need to find happiness in what we have, and truly enjoy times when we can have a little more, or go on a little vacation, or buy a designer pair of jeans. True contentment is not having ten homes, but having one in which there is great love and joy just in being together.

Finally, most of the house is empty now, and Dad and I are left with the same basic bills, blessedly smaller now, NO credit cards, and still those old lingering bills which now, may finally start getting some small payments toward getting paid in full. At this point, THAT is our American Dream. Blessings....