Contentment is the experience of satisfaction and being at ease in one's situation.
Some of the earliest
references to the state of contentment are found in the reference to the midah (personal attribute) of Samayach B’Chelko
. The expression comes from the word samayach
(root Sin-Mem-Chet) meaning "happiness, joy or contentment", and chelko
(root Chet-Lamed-Kuf) meaning "portion, lot, or piece", and combined mean contentment with one’s lot in life. The attribute is referred to in the Mishnahic
source which says
“Ben Zoma said: Who is rich? Those who are happy with their portion.”
The origins of contentment in Jewish culture reflect an even older thinking reflected in the Book of Proverbs
A joyful heart makes a cheerful face; A sad heart makes a despondent mood. All the days of a poor person are wretched, but contentment is a feast without end.
The issue of contentment remained in Jewish thinking during the Middle Ages
as evident for example in the writings of Solomon Ibn Gabirol
, an eleventh-century Spanish poet-philosopher who taught,
Who seeks more than he needs, hinders himself from enjoying what he has. Seek what you need and give up what you need not. For in giving up what you don’t need, you’ll learn what you really do need.
Jesus taught: 'I came that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest' Gospel of John 10:10
In Yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), movement or positions, breathing practices, and concentration, as well as the yamas and niyamas, can contribute to a physical state of contentment (santosha).
In a Buddhist sense, it is the freedom from anxiety, want or need. Contentment is the goal behind all goals because once achieved there is nothing to seek until it is lost. A living system cannot maintain contentment for very long as complete balance and harmony of forces means death. Living systems are a complex dance of forces which find a stability far from balance. Any attainment of balance is quickly met by rising pain which ends the momentary experience of satisfaction or contentment achieved. Buddha's task was to find the solution to this never ending descent into dissatisfaction or Dukkha. The Buddhist faith is based on the belief that he succeeded.
Many religions have some form of eternal bliss or heaven as their apparent goal often contrasted with eternal torment or dissatisfactions.
The source of all mentally created dissatisfactions appears to stem from the ability to compare and contrast experiences and find reality as one is living it to be less than ideal. The solution is to seek out ways to either make experienced reality conform to the ideal and/or to lower expectations to the level of the experienced. When one can live in the moment with expectations in harmony with experiences one has achieved the greatest mental contentment possible. Variants of this pursuit are found in many religions and manifest in forms of meditation and prayerful devotions.
The American philosopher, Robert Bruce Raup wrote a book Complacency:The Foundation of Human Behavior (1925) in which he claimed that the human need for complacency (i.e. inner tranquility) was the hidden spring of human behavior. Dr. Raup made this the basis of his pedagogical theory, which he later used in his severe criticisms of the American Education system of the 1930s.
Citations and notes
- ^ Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 32a also found in Pirkei Avot 4:1
- ^ Proverbs 15:13 and 15, Rabbi Meir Leibush (Malbim)
- ^ Mivhar Hapeninim 155,161 as found in The Jewish Moral Virtues, Borowitz and Schwartz, p.164
- Borowitz, Eugene B. & Weinman Schwartz, Frances, The Jewish Moral Virtues, Jewish Publication Society, 1999
- Meir Leibush (Malbim), Rabbi, translated by Charles Wengrov and Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Malbim on Mishley: The Book of Proverbs in Hebrew & English, Feldheim, 2001
- Fohrman, David & Kasnett, Nesanel, Rabbis, editors, Babylonian Talmud Volume 3, Shabbat 32a, Volume I, ArtScroll / Mesorah, 1999