What is the difference between feeling exhilarated and just being content? Between experiencing overjoy and settling for satisfied?
Someone, (was it me?) once said that having more does not make one as happy as being content with less. Please note that more does not always mean materialistic items; more can be obtaining another academic degree, a higher position at work, or an extra romantic interest; maybe even a spouse “upgrade.” 🙂
Upgrades aside, I had a friend who once told me that he will be happy if his bank account will always have six figures. Not that surprisingly, when that ultimately happened in a sustained manner, six figures were not merely enough. Another person I once met told me he married the most beautiful woman on the face of this planet so he would never have to look at another woman again. This chat took place at a holiday party at some hotel in NYC quite a few years ago. I must admit that when his wife entered the party hall, not one man in the room was able to take his eyes off her. She was stunning. Yet, I (who was actually able to briefly glimpse at the lucky fellow,) noticed how he couldn’t stop looking at other women passing by. I guess his exhilaration faded away after a while. After all, it is said that show me a beautiful woman and I’ll show you a man who’s tired of sleeping with her. C’est la vie. Or is it? Can’t we just be happy with what we have?
Every pot has a lid, I was told as a young man, wondering if I ever find the love of my life. When she finally turned up, I remember still pondering what if; what if there is someone else who is a better fit for the pot that I am. It took me way too many years to realize how misleading that saying is. Alas, if the metaphor is of a person to a pot and another to a lid, the proverb fails to acknowledge how we constantly change, morph and become misfits to each other. It is, after all, close to impossible for two individuals to both change in exactly the same manner, at exactly the same moment, all the time. There are days the container needs a smaller cover and days where no size will be large enough. And that is life.
And thus, for as long as we are searching for the perfect soul-mate, the appropriate amount of money in our bank account, the upgraded spouse, or the third PhD, we can only be momentarily exhilarated, temporarily overjoyed. And that is okay. But as another saying goes (boy, am I full of proverbs today…) there are no mountains without valleys. Those brief achievements cannot, by definition, result in long lasting content.
Long lasting is something altogether different. Which begs the question, can’t we have both? But that, my friends, would be an oxymoron… After all, if we are thrilled, by definition there must be a peak. If we stay at that top for a prolong amount of time, it is no longer a peak but a plane. Thus whenever the excitement is over, we are bound to experience, either light or deep, a downfall. Realizing and accepting this was helpful to me in multiple ways. No longer was there guilt for not being happy all the time, nor endlessly content with what I have and thus feeling unworthy as a spiritual seeker. All that became irrelevant. Yes, I am full of gratitude for having a wife that loves me the way she does and that I love her as much (granted with the typical marital ups and downs.) I am thankful for having healthy, intelligent and kind kids. And the list goes on and on. Yet that doesn’t mean I cannot strive for more; not instead of what I have but rather having aspirations for going further, deeper. And if deeper means more wealth, which is just fine as maybe further is to be able to create a larger charity, for which wealth is required, why be content? In other words, I have learned not to evaluate subjects by their appearance but rather by their objective.
Round and about, spiritual aspirants – if you ever want to see a pretentious lot that is never satisfied with what they have, join an ashram, a monastery or a Yeshiva. You will discover people pretending to be at peace while constantly craving enlightenment; bigger and better than the one a spiritual brother or sister just reported of having. You will find disciples craving an acknowledgement from a leader who may call himself a guru, a Rabbi or an Imam. You will realize that such places are not at all different than any other capitalistic institution and social order. But that is a topic for another post at another time. For now I bid you farewell!
Learned from: a pot, a lid and contemplation about being content.