Happiness Is Not the Goal: Contentment Is
Gisle Sorli has no doubt seen his share of the pursuit of happiness through the accumulations of things or the running blindly after lifelong "dreams" in his role as a Certified Financial Planner and CPA. In the article below he reminds us that we really should be seeking contentment and not happiness, but more importantly, that these two words are not synonymous. Yet, culturally happiness and contentment are seen as one and the same. Many would see this distinction as insignificant and they would be wrong. If we are ever going to obtain the joy that is deep and abiding regardless of our circumstances⸺job loss, death of family or friends, divorce, unhappy children, etc.⸺then we have to be clear about what we are pursuing and what are its attributes. Gisle helps to move us forward on all of these fronts in his comments below. Happy reading!
The United Nations recently published its annual report on happiness, which measures income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom, and trust (determined by the absence of corruption in business and government).
This year, my homeland of Norway climbed from fourth place to stand atop the podium as the happiest country in the world.
Can it be true that Norwegians are the happiest citizens in the world? And what determines a good life?
I’m skeptical. Here’s why…
Happiness Driven by What We Have?
The report analyzes happiness within nations using data from individual life evaluations—roughly 1,000 per year in each of more than 150 countries. It specifically measures answers to the “Cantril ladder” question:
Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
Apparently, Norwegians feel they possess adequate amounts of income, good health, trusted friends, and that they are able to be generous, and have leaders with integrity. But does that make them “happy”? I’ve met many miserable people who have an abundance of these things. I’ve also met many relatively poor people whose lives are full of adversity, but they seem to have a positive outlook on life.
Personally, I have been able to enjoy decent income, good health, trusted friends, an ability to be generous, and integrity among my leaders. However, at times in my life, I still felt something was missing. My emotions could go from being satisfied when things went well to being unsatisfied when things did not go as I wished. Even with all these material and relational gifts, I was not content.
What’s the problem?
It’s as simple as it is profound. The UN is missing a key question…