The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, February 20, 2000
Your Option

Seeking contentment
By Taru Bahl

A FATHER is filled with tender feelings when he sees his new- born son sleeping in the baby cot under a mosquito net, squeaky clean after being fed, bathed and diapered. For a moment he looks enviously at the child, marvelling at his little world in which his needs are met without his uttering a word or moving a finger. However, in spite of being a successful industrialist he himself has forgotten what it means to sleep like a log. He doesn’t recall when he last put up his legs and relaxed. The constant chasing of new tenders, the pressure of beating market competition and upgrading his professional and personal status has led to a strange unrest and discontentment in his heart.

The little girl playing in the sand, giggling and laughing with gay abandon unperturbed by her pock marked face and near obese frame makes the anorexic girl standing by reflect for a moment on the pleasures of childhood. Then there are no pressures on looking good. She wishes for a moment to swap places with the carefree child and forget her own limp hair, pimpled face and awkward gait. Her immense discontentment with what she is has blocked what she has—a sunny smile, an impressive voice and a quiet sincerity which the friendly little girl sees as she lovingly drags the older one to play with her.

  When a couple in love exchange engagement rings, looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, there is a shared look of contentment which seems to convey, "I have now found my soul/life mate and can look forward to a lifetime of happiness." A married couple watching them think to themselves, "Why can’t the love story last forever? Why do couples start bickering and finding fault with everything? Why is then their best never good enough?" They can’t recall when they last held hands, rested their heads on each other’s shoulders and shared a few quiet moments without nit-picking and blaming each other for their inadequacies.

Is contentment of the mind, body and soul such an elusive thing? Is it something that only children can find in their innocent, simple and uncluttered lives/minds? Or can it be found by saints who renounce the world? What is it that prevents us from being contented? Is it because most of us have been bitten by the "just a little more" bug leading to a situation where needs are never met and desires are never satisfied?

So, if all a job aspirant wants today is just a decent job, tomorrow he would want to be in an MNC drawing a fabulous salary. Then he would want to be the youngest branch manager, and later he would want to head operations in the sub-continent. Striving hard to better one’s status and to actualise one’s potential is part of the learning, adapting and growing process. It should never end.

But along with ambitions and desires, we must find the time and the inclination to enjoy what one has. We must value the love and cooperation we get and not take them for granted. Most of all, we must learn to count our blessings and not constantly lament what is not and cannot be. Albert Camus had once said, "If there is a sin against life, it consists not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life."

Unfortunately, we always find the grass greener on the other side. There is that constant feeling of "if only I had this, or if only I could be there life would be perfect" The irony is that when we do get there we are still unhappy, disgruntled and dissatisfied.

Contentment goes beyond containing emotions, maintaining an existing situation and not wanting to be acquisitive. It is actually a confidence, an attitude, a quality that is acquired and incorporated into our psyche. It is a quality which is not dependent on circumstances. It draws its strength and power from God.

In the Tao philosophy there is a constant reference to the Evolved Individual. He has Subtle Powers incorporating the ideal state of the contented happy person. He produces but does not possess, acts but does expect, advances but does not dominate. His life experiences are a reflection of his personal cultivation, so he works deeply to achieve his purpose and masters his environment by remaining objective and open to all that comes his way. He avoids aggressive action and transcends unworthy desires. Instead, he shapes his environment and directs the future with the influence of his intellectual gravity.

He strives to be intuitive, spontaneous and simple which is why he travels lighter, journeys farther and survives longer. By attaching less emphasis to self-interest and by limiting desires, he seeks out happiness from the simpler things in life. He regards excess and redundancy as signs of an unbalanced, unstable situation.

He understands the physical laws of nature and knows that the outcome of any excess is rapid decline. By freeing himself from irrelevant and misleading desires, he receives insights that bring harmony and stability to everything he touches. True happiness comes from enjoying the present without anxiously depending on the future, by not amusing ourselves with hopes or fears but being satisfied with what we have. What we have is most of the time sufficient.

This is not to say that one mustn’t strive for better things in life. A 60-percenter must hope to become an 80- percenter or a clerk in a bank must harbour dreams of becoming an officer. If one can have realistic expectations from oneself and have no illusions about our environment and circumstances, we will not lose sight of the present moment, thereby making the most of what we has. Abraham Lincoln used to say, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

So contentment is directly linked to one’s happiness quotient and is something that is entirely up to us. The Jewish Sabbath signifies contentment in its most unadulterated form. It symbolises the use of surplus for worship and rest rather than economic expansion and competition, factors that lead to domination, aggression, unrest and even war.

Contentment means sufficiency in all that one needs. It is a perfect condition of life in which no aid or support is needed. It is a constant state of being where one is satisfied with what one has and where one is.

Contentment often also comes with the knowledge that one is cared for and loved. It comes when one is on path of spiritual growth. It comes when one strives for better things not because others expect us to but because we want to. Competitive values get eliminated on their own as there is no use for them. There is santosh (contentment). To get santosh, one has to find happiness with what we have and with our lot in life.

The purpose of contentment is to help us see that we are exactly where we are and want to be. The niyama of contentment is to see what is right for our path. It is finding happiness in the present. Hellen Keller has aptly said, "Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence and I learn whatever state I may be in, therein to be content".