According to a Gallup survey conducted earlier this year, nine in ten Americans reported being satisfied with their personal lives. Another survey reports that one in ten Americans are affected by depression every year.
Could that be true? Are Americans either content or depressed?
If my small network of acquaintances is any indication of the undercurrents in America, I can’t help but believe that people are conflating contentment with what sits between it and depression — complacency.
In our modern world, we’re constantly chasing mile markers of success. However, by placing our happiness on the other side of each marker, it’s impossible to reach a true state of happiness. Typically, once we achieve one goal, we’ve found that the finish line has moved back another mile. We tire ourselves keeping up with the Joneses.
And so, contentment is espoused. But developed countries have taken this word and did with it what we did to its predecessors, “karma” and “love and light.” The majority of Americans now report they’ve attained this elusive state of being, while most of us still don’t even know what it is.
As the Buddha once said, “Contentment is the greatest wealth.” It means being happy right now with what one has. There is no “I’ll be happy once I have done this or achieved that.” Contentment is a present state of being and an internal sense of satisfaction.
However, contentment is not laziness or a lack of awareness. Contentment doesn’t mean you’re not looking to grow or not open to change. In fact, when you can be present with yourself and accepting of where you are in life, you tap into more calmness, clarity, and discernment. As such, contentment begets contentment.
And now, not to be the skeptical self-help writer, I have a hard time believing that most of the country has achieved this heightened level of self-awareness.
Complacency means choosing to be lazy and repeatedly ignoring your own dissatisfaction. There is a lack of working to improve. Instead of allowing yourself to be open to new paths and ideas, you actively avoid moving towards your potential, oftentimes blaming your discontentment on external factors.
I like to think of contentment as an internally-focused sense of peace, while complacency is an externally-driven place of tolerance. Both are connected to your values, or the principles by which you govern your life. However, when you’re content, you move in alignment with your values and when you’re complacent, you’re living at odds with your values. This will cause inner strife that is typically ignored.
So, which is it for you? As you think about your feelings on everything from your body and home to your career and relationships — are you content or are you simply complacent?