A particular Bangla word has recently been prominent in my thinking: Shontosh (contentement), or Shontushti (the act of reaching contentment) or even Shontushto (the person who is content).
Over the years, I have written many times about happiness and trying to capture the essence and origins of this term in blog essays: Terms of My Happiness (2012), Happiness By Choice (2011), When Happiness Just Shows Up Without Notice (2013), The Discontinuous Patchwork of Happiness (2011), and even my most recent blog The Eternal Wish: Making Happiness Last a Little Longer.
The science (and art) of the search for happiness has been a recent fad and has been a rich research topic in academia and the media for the last decade. There are boutique Oprahs everywhere, doling out commandments on happiness!
My recent search has been more around that leveled field, which may not be “perfection” but a calm, steady “satisfied” place. Where I am neither elated, nor sad.
When I hear the word: happiness, I connect it with a euphoric episode – that great few minutes or hours, I feel ecstatic. While I tried to plan for it, program it and even pray for it, under the most stringent regime, some days, that eupohoria, never materializes.
Just this weekend, I was invited to the wine social – to be with friends – at a lovely wine bar – sipping good vino – how can one not be happy in such a setting! From the moment, I stepped into this charming wine bar, I just felt meh; no euphoria, not even contentment. Something was not right!
I was not unhappy (watch double negative) but wasn’t enjoying the late afternoon wine social. Still can’t figure out why I didn’t enjoy my typical happiness setting.
We left the wine bar, went to a restaurant for a simple meal of appetizers and had wonderful conversation and the whole tempo of the evening changed.
I realized, even in the perfect setting, doing what I love to do, may not always produce happiness. Happiness really shows up wherever, whenever.
I am starting to believe happiness finds us, versus us trying to look for it.
Searching, expecting or strategizing for happiness, here or there, and orchestrating our lives around that goal is somewhat meaningless
Contentment, on the other hand, can be sought.
I went to see my ailing mother in Bangladesh recently. This amazing person has been a single parent to me over three decades. She inspired, cajoled, set boundaries and loved me, all in one lifetime. Watching her fade away, slowly, is never easy. However, seeing that she is being taken care of by loving family in her own home, in a pristine-clean environment and watching her being surrounded by constant care and affection, brought me to a leveled “contentment” with the situation.
I went to Dhaka anxious and worried; came back knowing that she is in peace and in good hands of her caring sisters.
During our interactions, I sang to her, brushed her hair and read her stories. We cried and laughed with the same sentences; this cannot be happiness; watching your strong parent fade away, is not a happy moment. However, I know I am content with where she is and understand and respect this relative peace.
After this experience, I am convinced that I have been searching for an illusion of happiness: which cannot be found by searching– it finds us, through the energy of the Universe.
Contentment, on the other hand, is something you can search for.
I don’t believe it’s a cop-out from excellence or continuous improvement; I think one can continue to search for excellence without sacrificing contentment. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to be content with starvation, deprivation, torture, or any other form of abuse. In those negative scenarios, we must fight back.
My current thought is more centered on practicing contentment, whenever we are at “ground zero” or in equilibrium, personal or professional.
On a late Summer afternoon in Dallas, when the temperature is still in it’s 80s, I am content with a walk in the park, enjoying the greenery and taking in all of what nature offers today. Yes, it’s not a perfect 75 degree day, a few bugs are flying around, and there is a bit of traffic noise.
Still I feel a peace around me.
At this moment, this is where I am supposed to be.