A Life of Contentment: The Truth about Happiness

July 6, 2014

A Life of Contentment: The Truth about Happiness


In horse racing there is something called a trifecta. To win a trifecta, the bettor must not only pick the horses finishing in the top three places in a race, but the exact finishing order of each horse. In this article we will lay out our own trifecta. Ours has nothing to do with horse racing though. Rather, it has to do with picking a winning strategy for a life well lived.

To get started I’m going to ask you to suspend a commonly held belief. That belief is this; “all I need to enjoy a good life is to be happy.” Nonsense! As you will learn, happiness is an overrated temporary response to the alignment of certain events in your life. Happiness is not a permanent state or condition. If it were meant to be permanent we would have no need for the word sad.

That said, let me assure you that I have nothing against being happy. I enjoy happiness whenever or wherever it may occur. Pursuit of happiness is an important factor in human evolution. My only concern is that in our pursuit of happiness we often overlook those events, people, and situations that may or may not be conducive to our being “happy,” but never-the-less are important. If I may, allow me to substitute here the word contentment for happiness.

As I will explain, contentment captures the importance of balance in our lives. I like to call this place, a life lived in balance, the good life. Which brings us back to the trifecta. Our race track: the Good Life; the heat: Psychology and mental health; the entrants: in gate #1 is Spirituality, gate #2 holds Meaning of Life; gate #3 Positive Psychology. The rest of the field is made up of a rag-tag assortment of lesser important names. Let’s look at the top three.


Many fans of the horse Spirituality make the mistaken assumption that its owner has some association with a religious group. That spirituality (not the horse) is the domain of some theology or dogma when it has the potential of being secular or religious. Spiritual speaks to an inner state of being, a world view that encompasses all of creation. It represents an attitude toward how one helps make the world a better place.

Those who exhibit spirituality is described as having a peacefulness about them. An acceptance of those things that are hurtful, destructive, or toxic, while demonstrating the necessary resolve or commitment to changing it for the better. These usually are people of quiet action.

It is easy for those of us who come from the Euro-American traditions of religion to connect spirituality with a religious set of beliefs. The challenge in this is, in the grand scale of things the Euro-American traditions of religion are a minority view. It does not take into account how different many Eastern, indigenous, and tribal people experience their world.

A worthy entry Spirituality has its own set of dedicated followers.

Meaning of Life

Closely akin to Spirituality comes Meaning of Life. They share many things in common. Things like direction and meaning. A purpose or reason to act in certain ways. The motivation to move forward even in the face of obstacles. It is almost like asking the age old question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  It is hard to imagine one without the other.

What then are the differences? I would suggest that Spirituality seems more centered as being an activity of the mind, whereas Meaning of Life seems to be more systemic in its effect touching all areas of our being. As the noted physician/therapist Viktor Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning” as humans meaning is focused on our ability to redefine life events. A basic assumption here is that qualitatively life events are not  meant to be measured on a happiness scale, rather it is our response to them that should be the measurement.

Several words are mistakenly used interchangeably to describe our reactions. Words like happy, satisfied, fulfilled come to mind. My choice is contentment or a state of being satisfied.  As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables”  “It is not enough to be happy, one must be content.”

So there is no misunderstanding, contentment does not exclude change. It does not mean giving up. You may find yourself in a life situation that doesn’t match your expectations. Being content with that situation only means that this is the way things are until you can change them.

Another race fan favorite Meaning of Life will be a part of the race until they cross the finish line.

Positive Psychology

The outlayer of this trio Positive Psychology does not show the same relationship as the one between Spirituality and Meaning of life. Positive Psychology is the more lively of all the entrants. By comparison the other horses seem almost timid. Positive Psychology is an in-your-face horse with a history of getting the job done.

Although a newcomer this horse brings with it a rich heritage and impressive family ties. The claim to fame here is an emphases on what is good or at least OK. She strikes a resonance among fans. With accuracy and insight Positive Psychology brings the human condition into the mix as an important element to be nurtured and accepted.

The Race is On

With all three trifecta participants in top form the race announcer is heard saying, “And they are off!” Each horse gains ground, falls off the pace, and returns stronger than ever. As they begin to close in on the finish line thier order begins to matter.  All three finish 1, 2, and 3, but in what order? I will leave the final order of their finish in your hands.

As it is in horse racing applying the idea of a trifecta to psychology can have rewarding results. Choose wisely and be sure to follow your order.


Article contributed by by Jim Aldrich

Image Credit: Dennis Forgione: flickr.com/photos/4g1/14316548194