Choosings and Musings

Yesterday on Facebook someone posted part one in a series called,

Can we learn to be happier?”.

I thought that that was an unrealistic expectation and might even cause more suffering in this world. I believe that we focus too heavily on “the pursuit of happiness” instead of acceptance of what is.

I preferred that we instead focus on feeling content.

Lani thought they were perhaps the same thing.

I disagree. Here’s what Etymology Dictionary [DOT] com says about happiness

happy (adj.)

late 14c., “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune” + -y (2). Sense of “very glad” first recorded late 14c. Ousted Old English eadig (from ead “wealth, riches”) and gesælig, which has become silly. Meaning “greatly pleased and content” is from 1520s. Old English bliðe “happy” survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.” An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant “wise.”

and about the word content …

content (adj.)

c.1400, from Old French content, “satisfied,” from Latin contentus “contained, satisfied,” past participle of continere (see contain).

content (v.)

early 15c., from Middle French contenter, from content (adj.) “satisfied,” from Latin contentus “contained, satisfied,” past participle of continere (see contain). Sense evolved through “contained,” “restrained,” to “satisfied,” as the contented person’s desires are bound by what he or she already has. Related: Contented; contentedly.

then I said I preferred equanimity which has its roots in …

equanimity (n.)

c.1600, “fairness, impartiality,” from French équanimité, from Latin aequanimitatem (nominative aequanimitas) “evenness of mind, calmness,” from aequus “even, level” (see equal (adj.)) + animus “mind, spirit” (see animus). Meaning “evenness of temper” in English is from 1610s.

Pausing,  I wondered if I was just being picky or just cranky.

That’s why I’ve gone into the etymology of each word. I grant you it’s not the Oxford English … but I don’t have a subscription right now. Perhaps that’s something I need to treat myself to. But for now… this will have to do.

I claimed yesterday that happiness was too dependent on events, circumstances, even other people and it would seem my memory served me right as it meant in the original sense something to what we would refer as “lucky”.

On second thought I think that’s what many want … to be lucky, wealthy (in the sense of $$$) and even silly giddy. Not that I would deny anyone those moments. Glory, I sure enjoy my “silly/giddy” moments. Just saying I wouldn’t want to be that way 24/7. Exhausting and often inappropriate.

Unless of course, you are Welsh and you want to be wise. Now that would be excellent. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard even a person of Welsh decent actually express that wish. So I guess this meaning left us late in the 16th century.

What I’d like to offer is that we seek balance such as that denoted by the word equanimity.

I propose that we stop vilifying emotions by calling them good or bad. They are just feelings and we don’t have to act on them.

For a start we can just allow ourselves to feel melancholy when we do and notice how that feels in our bodies. Then go about what needs doing … or if nothing needs doing just go about feeling melancholy.

Certainly, we can warn people that that is how we are feeling, but we may also need to let them know that we don’t need fixing or advice or cheering up. I think that would make me happy on those occasions when I just need to sit with a feeling rather than fake a grin. Indeed, I think that all this duplicity is crazy making.

We rail about the weather, the state of the environment, the behaviour of others … but in the instant we really have no power over any of that. It is only setting ourselves up to believe that we are the centre of the universe. Let’s start realizing that we are all connected and that we can only be in one place in time. Working from that may not always make us “happy” but it’s a good place to start on “equanimity”.

My husband frequently quotes a poem by Li Po and I share this today in all its appropriateness.

In the landscape of spring

there is neither better or worse

the flowering branches

some grow long

some grow short


Photo Credit Jeff Suchak

layering and textures from Kim Klassen

My Thursday blogging posts will examine an etymological / emotional theme for the rest of December and seeing that this is the last Thursday of 2013, we may need to extend it into January 2014.

I’d really appreciate your comments about how these posts make you feel. If you have a friend or colleague who might benefit from or even enjoy an exercise in pondering how to be authentic and balanced in this wacky world, please share a link. I’d love the company.

4 thoughts on “Choosings and Musings

  1. Hi Susanna,

    Very interesting post….I have been pondering on the difference between being happy versus being content for a very long time…often debating with people, friends, strangers….What really makes me think is how we relate to those words in the sense of what we feel in those states….Intuitively I have always leaned towards “happy” (although not intended as lucky, but rather in the contest of appreciating and enjoying the moment and the possibility to evolve as a human being supporting positive energy when connecting to the world and others). “Content” as somehow it seems to denote a boundary, something that doesn’t allow free evolution of feelings…..Although both words often may not be appropriate to describe our inner wisdom…Thank you you found the prefect word…Equanimity….yes!!! “équanimité, aequanimitatem…the “evenness of mind, calmness,” from aequus “even, level”, “evenness of temper” wonderful mindful state!!!

    Peace Love and Light
    Happy new year

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and thought-full comments, Lizzie. I’ve never thought of contentment as precluding other emotions because it’s how I feel all the time, even when I’m sad or melancholy or happy. Martin Seligman (the father of positive psychology) feels we use the word “happy” too often and so it loses it’s distinctness, its pith. It’s like “awesome” nowadays. The word means full of awe (and awe isn’t necessarily a “happy” thing) … as in “God is awesome” so you better pay attention and shape up. I’m trying to discipline myself to think of what I’m saying lately.

      The other reason I wrote this post is that I work in mental health and I find that December / January are very dangerous for risk of suicides. Part of that comes out of the seasonal expectation that we “should” be “happy”, so that if we don’t feel happy, we measure outselves as emotional failures, or relational misfits or castoffs. So I’m wary of pushing people to “feel” what they don’t honesty feel.

      I want people to be able to accept all their feelings as just feelings without passing judgement. It definitely takes work, but all I’m trying to do is make people more aware.

      You got thinking and I’m glad you shared your thoughts. Wonderful to discuss these things with colleagues whether they are around the table at team meetings or across the ocean doing the same kind of hard and fulfilling work.

      Hope you experience much happiness in 2014 … and a year chockablock FULL of equanimity!
      Hugs, susanna

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