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To strive for happiness or contentment

My brother and I have had a recurring conversation over many years about whether a person should strive to be happy or strive to be contented. I take the happiness angle, and he argues for contentment.

If I were to try to characterize his position, I should say that a person can never truly be in a state of permanent happiness, but that contentment is achievable. Therefore, striving for happiness is folly and doomed to failure, while striving for contentment is good. Striving for happiness will only lead to disappointment, and indeed not happiness at all, or even contentment. There is more, but this is the main thrust.

On the other hand, I would argue that striving for happiness is not the same as being happy at all times.

One of my concerns in choosing between these goals is a propensity to undershoot the mark. If a person should strive for contentment, then perhaps she merely reaches a state of eternally mild dissatisfaction. Whereas, if she strives for happiness, and fails, then maybe she has consolation in mere contentment?

This is not my main point, but perhaps it is not insignificant.

Primarily, I would say that striving for happiness pushes a person's character, skill, knowledge, and self-worth further than striving for the lesser degree of contentment does. I am in the camp that holds the Socratic disdain for the unexamined life. I would apply that to unimproved as well, in that examining one's own life is of little benefit if it does not lead to betterment in one's character, skill, knowledge, ethical behavior, et cetera.

Striving merely for contentment is, I think, at risk of settling for mediocrity. Contentment can lead to complacency, which can in turn lead to decline. Striving for happiness possibly does not suffer this same risk, or at least not to the same degree.

So, strive to be happy. Be contented with knowing that you do not settle for being contented.

Clearly, there is much more to say on the subject.


23:45 Saturday, 17 March 2018