Contentment: An Old Fashioned Word For An Old Fashioned Ideal

Don’t worry. It’s safe to read this post as I am not going to discuss Brexit – a subject that is going to be at the forefront of all media news for the rest of this month. You are probably, like me, feeling huge ‘Brexit fatigue’ and dare I say it, total confusion as to what the outcome will be. No I am going to talk about contentment – such an old fashioned word. I doubt my children have ever used it. I mean who says to you, “Are you content?”

What is contentment? The dictionary definition is, ‘a state of happiness and satisfaction’. I suppose you could say that the Brexit debate has put paid to that state. However are we not our own worst enemies? We do not seemingly allow ourselves to be content. We are constantly striving for more or better. We are never satisfied with what we have. Maybe Brexit has rattled our cage and made us wonder if the UK is such an idyllic country to live in. Donald Trump has done much to unsettle the American people, a huge divide is ripping through their country. But these are are all issues that most of us can do little about – they are out of our control.

I am a great believer in living in the now, enjoying what we have and looking for happiness in all that is around us. Spring is the season of new birth, and nature, at this time, is at its most seductive.

I think it is this desire for ‘instant’ that is a huge issue in denying us contentment. Purchasing anything has never been easier. Online shopping is rising and will soon overtake shopping in a real shop. Our grandchildren will think the invitation, let’s go shopping, means getting out an iPad and clicking on a few links. Shopping as a socially inclusive activity, going with friends to choose something special, having a coffee or lunch together and indulging in conversation will be a thing of the past. There may be no purchase but still you will have had a good time and may have achieved some contentment.

What about instant news which is everywhere. We can try to switch ourselves off from it but being uniformed is a great fear for all of us. We want to have an opinion on everything or at least know about something that is happening elsewhere in the world. Social media gives us all a voice and happily for you I am not going to weigh up the benefits v. the drawbacks of these platforms in this article.

What I am talking about is sitting back, stopping everything and just relaxing and taking in and enjoying your surroundings. I was on the train yesterday and as I looked around at my fellow passengers in the carriage they were all locked into their mobile phones, laptops or tablets. One man was conducting an interview on his phone and I am sure we all had an opinion about how well he was doing to win the contract he was pitching for. Personally I felt he would have benefitted by waiting to have this conversation when he was back in his office or at home and definitely when he was on his own. However the person the other end wanted an instant answer and could not wait, so we were all subjected to being an unwitting party to this conversation.

As for everyone else, their attention was engaged with their screen, flooding their brains with information and opinions. In the past the daily commute would involve reading your daily newspaper. If you read a broadsheet it could prove quite tricky to turn a page without knocking your neighbour and maybe initiating a conversation. Plus of course your hands were black by the end of the journey. With modern technology and newspapers downloaded onto our gadgets we can be much more contained and clean. However where is conversation? Heads bent, no eye contact and – even more disturbing – nobody looking out of the window. These are all characteristics of the modern day train traveller.

I recently recommended a TV series, Das Boot, to my son. However he sent me a text after having watched the first episode asking if it was subtitled all the way through. I actually could not remember as it was such a compelling series. The subtitles were not an issue for my husband and I. I actually would prefer subtitles to bad accents from actors. However I knew where my son was coming from. He could not watch anything, or even read an article in a newspaper, without his attention flitting to his phone or laptop that is permanently close at hand. People cannot have a conversation without their eyes darting to their phone when it pings. Subtitles in a TV series put paid to all of this if you want to keep up with the story!

At this point I must admit that my mobile phone is essential for my work, how I manage my money, read my newspaper, and purchase birthday presents for my large family. I admit to being a digital diva and cannot consider having a complete digital detox, however here are some terrifying facts:

The average thumb scrolls through 90m of mobile content per day (that’s 295ft for those of us oldies who still haven’t gone metric) and equivalent to the height of the Statue of Liberty.

Excessive social media consumption is now considered at least as troubling as those of disordered eating: stress, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, problems focusing, lowered self-esteem, decision-fatigue.

Whilst the obesity crisis has been fuelled by an overabundance of cheap, empty calories, many are suggesting that the mental health crisis is being built on the barrage of information our minds and bodies are programmed to crave but ill-equipped to process.

Yes your digital machines are addictive and you are constantly on the hunt for ‘brain-snacks’.

Can you believe that the former chief executive of ebay, Michael Moskowitz, launched an app called Moodrise earlier this year. It is described as the world’s first Digital Nutrition app designed not to get people off their phones, but to consume something different. It is split into six desirable moods from focused to happy, it streams content that supposedly releases the neurotransmitters that engender them. It will show videos of birds singing, or an avalanche falling like icing sugar. These films are designed to release chemicals that are responsible for feelings fo calm, comfort and serenity. There is even a loop of a puppy having his tummy tickled.

More tech to deliver us from digital junk is a little ironic, though one mustn’t forget it is a commercial enterprise. How about engaging with real life? Pulling out one’s earphones, going for a walk and hearing the birds sing – though I won’t suggest you engage with an avalanche. I have to say that 10 minutes cuddling or playing with my dogs is better than any app on my iPhone in terms of a de-stress. They may not tell me the news or deliver a parcel from Amazon, but the enjoyment is subliminal.

We are social animals and we need social prompts, interaction and dialogue in order to survive. I have a friend who engages in conversation with as many people as he can. He talks to everyone that he interacts with, a waitress, the check-out person, or the person in front of him in any queue. He feels good about it and having watched him in action he rarely receives a rebuff. I believe the recipient of his chat also appreciates that someone is interested in them, not just in their coffee order or whatever it is that they are there for.

As I gazed out of my train window on a cold but blue sky day I was the only one in my carriage enjoying the view (even if I have seen it a thousand times before). It was not just what I was seeing that made me feel content, I thought about all that was good in my life and I how lucky I am at this time. Let’s face it life is full of ups and downs, so when you have the opportunity to enjoy contentment, then go for it and don’t go looking for bigger and better elsewhere.

Lots more posts from Poppy here

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Lillie Hufflepuff
4 years ago

What a fabulously perceptive post Poppy. Thank you for this. Although I’ve just acknowledged the irony that I read it BEFORE I sent my husband his daily, ‘good luck at work today’ text. Guilty as charged!

Tricia Tunstall
4 years ago

I couldn’t agree more with your article on mobile phones, look around any train carriage, waiting room. Cafe , everyone is on the phone , Two things that bug me most are, people talking loudly on their phones for ages and you have to listen , we are going on a long train journey over Easter and we have requested a quiet carriage ,but I doubt it will make any difference , there will still be someone talking loudly on their phone, the other one is, Mums pushing their babies /toddlers in the pushchairs whilst talking /texting, not bothering to take time to chat and talk about what’s around them , the child has no stimulation at all from the parent , how will they grow up in a world of texting not talking , I despair , I had for my three children a forward facing pram and I would talk to them and point out things of interest,, OK , we didn’t have mobiles then , but couldn’t today,s mums, just now and then put the b….y phone away ,!!! Rant over, X