I took a walk yesterday up to the viewpoint and used my iPhone to take this panorama shot.
The viewpoint is at the top of the hill just above the village where I’ve lived for exactly a year now.
In my monthly themes I think of November as being a month for reflection. And one of the ways I like to reflect is to take what’s referred to by French philosophers as the “view from on high” or “view from above“.
It’s a way of reflecting which involves pausing, standing back, and taking an overview. It’s not about analysing or considering the details.
So I took a little pause, standing there at the viewpoint, and gazed slowly in all directions, drinking in the fields of gold, and then I took a deep, slow breath or two and asked myself “how does this feel?”
It feels good.
What I feel is contentment.
I’ve been in touch with that pretty frequently recently, and when I first had that word, contentment, pop into my head I wanted to reject it. I mean it feels such a weak word, doesn’t it? A mediocre word. Couldn’t I come up with something a bit stronger than that?
So, I looked it up on my blog and found this from five years ago –
Positive affect is defined as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. These feelings can be transient, but they are usually stable and trait-like, particularly in adulthood. Positive affect is largely independent of negative affect, so that someone who is generally a happy, contented person can also be occasionally anxious, angry or depressed.
Here’s what they found [I’m referring to a study here]
After taking account of age, sex, cardiovascular risk factors and negative emotions, the researchers found that, over the ten-year period, increased positive affect predicted less risk of heart disease by 22% per point on a five-point scale measuring levels of positive affect expression (ranging from “none” to “extreme”).
So, weak or strong, turns out contentment might well turn out to have a health benefit.
But there’s more – I’ve just finished reading Robert Brady’s “The Big Elsewhere”, which I highly recommend, and in there this week I found a passage he’d written “on contentment”. He refers to the Tao Te Ching where Lao Tzu says “There is no disaster greater than not being content” –
What does contentment have to do with disaster? Lao Tzu knew, and cryptically passes along the intimation, that contentment is the beginning of all that is worthy, that contentment is the seed and germ of every happiness, its absence accordingly the tiny breach that ruptures into every disaster, the pinhole in the dam, the lost horseshoe nail. Contentment is all the rest: pride in the way of one’s life and the fruit of it, whether one is a shepherd or chieftain, a fact that hasn’t changed since back in the tribal days when miracles were everywhere and museums were not yet needed to remind us of what is gone.
Contentment is the core of all that truly matters, it is the root of passion, the height of honesty, the beating heart of every joy, the embrace of a family; for there is no self in contentment; it is other-centred. The self-centred, in contrast, is perturbed, discordant, writhes with discontent and seeks release (insert the ‘seven cardinal sins’ here for starters).
What do you think? Is contentment something you recognise? Is it something you feel? Today?
It seems to me it’s not such a weak or mediocre feeling after all!