Content and Happy

I’ve been struggling with words lately. I guess that comes as no surprise to most of you. I’ve been thinking about the words content and happy, discontent and unhappy. My on-line dictionary defines them as one in the same and opposites. I would argue this. To me, there is a very big difference between begin content and being happy. I also know that I can be extremely happy and yet discontent…at exactly the same time. And, unhappy in my contentment.

When I was in my last year of physical therapy school, I had the world’s best running partner. She was also in her last year of school, we were roughly the same pace, and we both thought logging a bunch of miles through the arboretum followed by scones and coffee was the best way to spend a 2 hour break between classes. We generally solved all the problems of our world, at least our small and limited world, in the course of 3-7 miles. We figured out how to endure the university’s worst journal club class (chocolate), we debated religion vs spirituality, and we talked about boys. She had a boyfriend who did not appreciate her nearly enough, and I was engaged to a guy that was out of town for the year doing his own medically related internships. Discontent fueled many a run. When hers got extreme, I could not keep up with her. But running with her, scarfing carbohydrates and caffeine, I was happy.

There were times during that year when we were content. No confrontation or crisis, nothing really good or tasty on the horizon either. Our runs were slower, our discussions less heated. The surrounding days were filled with going to class, doing the homework, working our respective jobs, eating, and sleeping. Going through the motions of life, passing the time. Don’t think too much, don’t feel too much, just get up in the morning and get ‘er done. We coined this state, “auto pilot”. Content, but I don’t recall being particularly happy. Then, there were those runs, when I was content….AND happy. Perhaps anticipating a visit from the distant fiancé, maybe he had just written me a nice letter. Those were the runs where she couldn’t keep up with me.

Much of my life over the last year has been “auto pilot”. Get up, swim or run. Feed the dog, make oatmeal. Go to work, feed the teenaged boy, do chores, feed the dog again. Try to sleep. Weekdays are easy, weekends, much harder. I have loving family, I have great friends. I have everything I need. I have been content. Contentment is peaceful, it means one’s needs are met. It is easy to compartmentalize. One spot in my mind for family, another for work, a big chunk for friends. Bills get paid, house stays clean, snow gets shoveled, work gets done. My heart is safely walled off by bricks….lest I ask for what I want, rather than what I need. Happiness means tearing down that wall, asking for what I want, even if it is not what I need. It means jumping off auto pilot, and into the rich fullness of this one wild and precious life. It is scary, not peaceful. It perhaps breeds discontent.

I have torn down the brick wall. I am happy, happier than I can remember. I fluctuate between being content, and being so very discontent. My current running partners and swimming lane mates don’t know what to expect. Some mornings I am dancing on the top of the hill, a full 5 seconds before they can get there. Other mornings it is all I can do to get to the pool before the warm up is already over. I don’t want to rebuild the brick wall. I’d take happy over content any day.

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