contentment wears a secret smile

Yesterday I walked around carrying a secret smile, feeling content and happy as I rode to and from work and contemplating an evening with old friends who are in town from back home, and my girls.  As I rode on the subway to meet everyone at our friends’ hotel, I got thinking about the idea of contentment, and how it relates to “happy.”  Does the presence of the former always result in the latter?  Because goodness knows “content” isn’t a term I’d use to describe myself; I’ve never been particularly content.  But I have been happy for substantial chunks of my life. 

Leaving my hometown and coming to this city was a product of that perpetual discontentment, but leaving behind certain people and certain familiarities was the painful part of that decision.  Leaving was something I had to do in striving for my own happiness, but it didn’t come without consequence, psychologically and financially.  But as I have been reminded each time I return there, the love of my people remains steadfast, and maybe that has, in its gentle way, helped me to find my ground here.  I still get asked if I will come home, but they all understand why I am here.

They know that in some ways, DIScontentment makes me happy.  I have this fear of becoming stagnant; of living a life of never changing, never growing.  I don’t suppose all the moving around I’ve done is necessarily akin to growth and change – I know many people who have lived in a place all their lives and have evolved and grown in all kinds of beautiful ways.  But there is this constant yearning to “move on” within, and maybe my physical moving around is a misguided manifestation of that.  Happiness is often associated as the end product of the striving – when we all know it’s the striving itself that really causes happiness; the small, sometimes methodical steps; the actions.

Last year, in an attempt to live the notion that ‘happiness is the journey not the destination’ I turfed the quest of finding “home” in this new city and left it up to “home” to find me.  I had some journeying to do in the meantime.  It was the right decision.  I still consider my current home as a “temporary place to hang my hat” but it doesn’t matter anymore.  The discontentment has been sent back to where it belongs – in my mind – no longer directed at the walls and streets around me. 

Maybe my feeling of contentment yesterday was because the “twain met.”  The comfort of the love and history and fellowship from back home lived together in the realm of the discontented soul, gently tugging it back from the journey for a bit of a breather. 

And I was still wearing that secret smile when I walked home at the end of the evening and went to bed.


This is a Magpie Tale.  To find wonderful weekly visual prompts and links to what they've inspired in many writers and poets, visit here.


  1. Reply
    willow March 30, 2011

    I am smiling.

  2. Reply
    Reluctant Blogger March 30, 2011

    Wow, aren’t you like me! When I have no change in my life, I feel stifled and suffocated. I am finding ways to manage it – effect small changes, travel rather than move etc but it is so deeply rooted this feeling that it is hard to overcome.
    Just booked a trip to Brazil. Can’t wait!!!

  3. Reply
    Jennifer March 30, 2011

    Me too Tess. Still.

  4. Reply
    Jennifer March 30, 2011

    Small changes are huge! I tend to forget that, RB. And yes, travel INSTEAD of move!
    Brazil! Wow – I can’t wait to hear (read) all about it.

  5. Reply
    Helen March 31, 2011

    Very intriguing .. your thoughts, feelings and observations.

  6. Reply
    Marilyn March 31, 2011

    I like the thought of your smile, it has made me smile. Happiness vs contentment – to me contentment is an inner state and happiness is to do with outside influences. I often feel happiness but not always contentment.

  7. Reply
    Lucy Westenra April 1, 2011

    What became of the story about your evening out with friends?

  8. Reply
    Jennifer April 1, 2011

    Thank you Helen!

  9. Reply
    Jennifer April 1, 2011

    Glad to know it made you smile, Marilyn. And your take on happiness/contentment makes perfect sense to me!

  10. Reply
    Jennifer April 1, 2011

    Stay tuned Lucy! Glad you stopped by.

  11. Reply
    Jingle April 1, 2011


  12. Reply
    chrisd April 2, 2011

    This was some serious thought! I agree-perhaps contentment lies somewhere between a rut and frustration!

  13. Reply
    Little hat April 5, 2011

    Hi Jenn, Hmmmmmmm. Long one coming up. There’s so much talk about hapiness these days. There are conferences on happiness, books, University degrees. My take on happiness is that it is part of optimism. People who see the positive rather than dwell on the negative seem to have the capacity to experience most things, even hardship, as some form of positive challenge and thence a source of happiness. I believe its part genetic, part family experience. I am a pathological optimist. Deluded my wife might even say. It works for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t experience unhapiness, frustration, anger, ‘down in the dumps’ periods but as an optimist these are all explained away as part of the wonderful kaleidoscope of life. Easy to say as an optimist. Impossible to imagine if you are suffering chronic depression or melancholia. Contentment on the other hand, I agree, is quite different. I relate to your quest for the new, the life challenge, the odd. It’s what makes my days and years interesting. I am drawn to the a-symmetrical in life. Andrea says that that is explained by my wonderfully happy and balanced childhood which I now balance with ‘risk’ and ‘adventure’. Her theory would be that those who have had tumultuous lives yearn for the stable and the predictable and vice versa. AND yet, I would describe myself as contented despite my yearning for challenge and asymmetry. My contentment comes from feeling comfortable with myself. Comfortable with my discontent if you like. That seems to have become more a part of me as I’ve aged and, as I like to say, ‘grown more like myself’ over the years.
    LONG WINDED. Sorry. Would probably look less so in an email. Perhaps we should exchange email addresses before we die in case one of our blogs implodes. Mine is Steve

  14. Reply
    Selma April 5, 2011

    It’s funny. I associate happiness (or a variation on it) with striving. My fear of remaining stagnant comes out not so much in changing location but in changing jobs. I could stay in the same house or street forever but if someone told me I had to stay in the same job for the next 20 years I would panic. The longest I have ever worked in the same position was three years and by the end of it I was stir crazy.
    The striving keeps me happy yet I suppose it brings on a kind of discontentment. I wonder often if the two can coexist in my mind.
    I am glad you had your secret smile. That is something worth striving for. A wonderful, insightful post.

  15. Reply
    Jennifer April 5, 2011

    That’s an interesting way to put it! Perhaps it is fear of rut that brings on discontentment. (?)

  16. Reply
    Jennifer April 5, 2011

    Steve – as I said in the email I sent you – your thoughts, long and short, are ALWAYS welcome here. It’s wonderful that people with such similar interests and preoccupations find each other this way. And if it weren’t for my loyal bloggy friends stopping in to say that what I write isn’t a load of bullshit, I don’t know if I’d bother carrying on.
    Interesting, what Andrea says about your “happy and balanced” childhood, and you’re needing to counter that with adventure as an adult. I could say that about me. Though memoir and personal story are my passion – I often think I could never write a memoir because all my memories of childhood are pretty much “happy and balanced.” Oh, I suppose it wasn’t ALL happy and balanced, but as you also say, happy and balanced is also related to genetics.
    Oh I could go on and on too – maybe there is another blog post on the subject… in the meantime, you now have my email.

  17. Reply
    Jennifer April 5, 2011

    Selma, I completely identify with everything you say. I rue the day I ever stop striving. And, I think my moving around is a misguided way of addressing my need for change. May we both continue striving discontentedly until the day we step off this planet.

  18. Reply
    Jennifer April 5, 2011

    Oh – and re: the job thing – me too. (It’s how we differ from previous generations, eh?) I’m at the longest I’ve ever been at a job – 3 and a half years. And well, you know…

  19. Reply
    Susannah April 6, 2011

    Just popping in to say hello and send some love your way! Hope all is well in your world. x
    I always used to keep pictures propped up on the floor ready to hang and boxes of things here and there. One day I analysed it and realised that it suggested a feeling of impermanance, a feeling that things were happening, in process and not set in stone. It gave me a strange sense of comfort.

  20. Reply
    Jennifer April 7, 2011

    Thanks Susannah! I’m glad you did. I’ve not been active enough in the bloggy world these days, there are a number of distractions. I intend to be back in force soon!
    That’s interesting about your pictures (I have loads of them still propped against the floor too). I like your interpretation of it – I’m sure if I really looked at it – I’d feel a sense of comfort too.

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