The Many Paths to Contentment

I’m flying back home after an 8 day trip West to visit friends who I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. A somewhat rushed but really enjoyable time. Reflecting back on it, I am struck by the wide diversity of ways that my friends have found to achieve satisfaction. Ten different friends, and about 20 different tactics.

A couple of disclaimers:

  1. All of these people are near or over 40
  2. Not all of them can be said to be truly happy or satisfied with their lives, but even the unhappiest of them has found islands of satisfaction in their sea of discontent.

Strikingly, material wealth doesn’t seem to contribute very much to satisfaction*. This isn’t at all a surprise to me – I’ve written and talked about it extensively. But I haven’t had a chance to observe so many other facets of satisfaction (broadly defined) among so many in a long time, and again, striking is the term that comes to mind. 

On the other hand, good health, close family (parents, siblings, children and grandchildren), deep, generally longstanding relationships (spouses, friends, pets), engaging work, and hobbies of passion made the biggest contribution. Again, not a shocker, but worth noting.

A few other contributors to some: God/spirituality/religion;  creativity (making art or performing music), travel. And a really powerful one, in the absence of present contributors, is the recollection of happy times. Immersion in fond memories is an easy,  pleasurable, and perhaps under-appreciated technique to feeling good.

What’s the takeaway?

There are many, many paths to contentment, to satisfaction, to fulfillment, and to happiness. If you find one or more of them blocked, look for others. They’re out there.

*Note, however, that material markers of success (income, status symbols, career progression) are way more important to people in their 20s and 30s, people who are still developing a strong sense of self and so tend to rely more on external validators than internal ones.