Content vs. Complacent: How is Happiness Found?


I listened to a speaker today who mentioned a study he had just read which found that participants who engaged in expressions of gratitude were “statistically” happier than those who merely thought about gratitude.

Understanding that happiness is not something that happens to a person, but rather a very active choice or series of choices we make, this principle applies perfectly for parenting. We teach them how to navigate life and relationships, we teach them how to channel and express their emotions. What parent doesn’t want to teach his or her child the skills and work of being happy?

The format of the study was to have each participant in two groups create a list of individuals who had been inspiring or motivating to them. Then group A was assigned to call each individual on their list and express gratitude for the inspiration their mentor had given them. Group B was merely asked to identify their inspiring mentors, but that was all.

Group A reported greater contentment with their life, greater appreciation for the mentors they had identified, stronger bonds with their loved ones and greater overall satisfaction with their work accomplishments.

Group B reported an initial burst of contentment, appreciation and satisfaction; but then the reported levels of happiness slowly ebbed back to the levels they had expressed before the study.

The findings? Happiness is found in the expression of gratitude. Let me repeat that  . . .

Happiness is found in the expression of gratitude.

But does contentment equal complacency? Not at all. To be complacent means to have no motivation to pursue personally stretching goals. Complacency is stagnant.

Contentment, by contrast, implies a peaceful acceptance of what is. It is gratitude for what is, gratitude for what was, and gratitude for what may be.

So how many of us approach parenting with a demeanor of complacency? We see it all the time in sitcoms and on the news; many people want to survive parenthood, but aren’t exactly sure how.

Well, rather than simply surviving parenthood (and having our children survive us), what if we approached parenting like group A? What if we approached it with deliberation and planning, anticipating some clear action steps?

I would venture a guess that parenting would involve a great deal more contentment, and a lot less complacency. And according to the study, it would result in greater happiness for everyone.

Strong relationships, greater satisfaction with our work, higher overall happiness. That sounds absolutely beautiful to me. I am content to ponder it a while longer . . .