Happiness is self-contentedness. -- Aristotle
I was driving to work the other day, and I was happy, unapologetically so. I recently moved into the city and was overjoyed to avoid the 45-minute traffic jam. The buildings were older, the trees mature, and there was a bustle that just felt fresh.
I was envisioning a future where I'd bike to work, take my daughter to the park, and spend lazy Saturdays exploring new markets and restaurants. But then I stopped myself. Is this where I really wanted to be? I never wanted to live in St. Louis. I had set my sights on Colorado, northern California, Washington... Why was I suddenly feeling so content?
Was I becoming complacent?
This terrified me, and my happy mood instantly plummeted, urging me to yearn for the next best thing. As I expressed these feelings to a friend, it hit me: Maybe I'm scared to be happy.
There's a popular sentiment that we should always be striving to better ourselves, physically, financially, and emotionally. There is always room for improvement, and while pursuing excellence is typically healthy, it can be terribly harmful when taken to an extreme.
Being content means accepting where you are with happiness. Being complacent means settling for circumstances that are less than ideal. I was fearful that being happy was going to keep me in this place forever. But would it really be that bad? I had become so obsessed with plans I'd constructed in college that instead of moving me forward they were actually holding me back.
Being content doesn't mean you're settling, it means that you're mature enough to enjoy individual moments in life, whether big or small, planned or unplanned. It means that the horizon is not always out of your grasp; you can actually touch it and marvel within its beauty.
Social psychologist, speaker, and author Heidi Grant Halvorson has explained how contentment and happiness evolve over time: "Research suggests...that [happiness] slowly evolves into something very different from our youthful idea of happiness. Happiness for the young is largely about anticipating the joys of new accomplishments...as we grow older, we find that happiness becomes more and more about being content in our current circumstances, and hanging on to what we've already got."
Many other psychologists agree that happiness isn't a feeling, but is more accurately described as having a sense of contentedness.
Why wait till our youth has passed us by to be satisfied with what's before us? Our mental health is a work in progress, and although it's important to be introspective, happiness shouldn't make us feel guilty either. Every day we grapple with the challenges of attaining happiness. It can be a rocky path for some. So cherish those good moments and don't let them be plagued by fear or self-doubt. Your body and mind will thank you later.