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atlantis's avatar

Do you agree with the following quote? Is being happy a matter of human will? Is it elusive?

Asked by atlantis (1862points) July 7th, 2011

“Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.”
— Jonathan Tropper

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16 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Yes…100% The upside is you can get a good piece of it with just a little effort!

thorninmud's avatar

I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of will, no. It may be possible to convince oneself that one is contented by sheer dint of will, but I think that just papers over one’s fundamental discontent with a wishful self-image.

Will is necessarily ego-driven. It’s the self consciously pursuing its agenda. But I believe that ego/self is also the fundamental source of most of our discontent. Tropper got this much right: the mechanism of discontent is comparison between what one has and what one wishes one had. That’s ego/self at work. It seems contradictory to say that the ego/self is both the cause and the remedy of discontent.

As I see it, contentment is not a function of will. One doesn’t decide that one will not want from this point on. Getting beyond desire requires, in effect, an act of surrender rather than an act of will; a setting aside of one’s agenda. That’s difficult to do and so, yes, it is elusive.

Coloma's avatar

Yep, “happiness” is not a constant, contentment is.
I like Cheryl Crows line… ” it’s not about having what you want, it’s about wanting what you HAVE.”

I practice gratitude daily, for even the simplest of things and another huge factor, IMO, is feeling very secure within yourself.

My identity is not contingent on anything, person, job, external factor, therefore I am truly “free”...I don’t need external validation in terms of approval or monetary gain to feel good about who I am and how I live. I could care less what others think, what I think is all that matters. ;-)

atlantis's avatar

@thorninmud @Coloma, Insight appreciated.
Would you say that being content then lies in accepting your unhappiness and living with it. The surrender you’re referring to, correct me if I’m wrong, is the surrender of our vision of happiness. And by not actively pursuing happiness, we are truly content?

thorninmud's avatar

It’s an abandonment of the idea that happiness requires something other than what is immediately available. The very notion of “pursuing happiness” implies that it must be a future condition that requires a change from present circumstances.

Coloma's avatar


I don;t think “surrender” necessarily means resignation. The way I have come to understand the concept of “surrender” is to not resist what is, yet, this doesn’t mean you resign yourself to any condition. It just means you first accept whatever situation or feelings you have, and then take whatever steps you can, in the moment to change the situation.

You let go of the ‘struggle’ on a mind level, and then, the necessary right actions flow in a more unobstructed way.

If you are stuck in quicksand you don’t struggle, which mires you even more deeply, you relax into what is, while also reaching for the branch.

Right @thorninmud :-)

Coloma's avatar

Look at the idea of “pursuing” happiness, or anything as you would in dealing with an animal.

If you pursue an animal it will run from you, evade you. If you sit quietly without a grasping, chasing, pursuing energy, it will most likely come to you voluntarily.

@thorninmud makes a great point in the idea that anything can be pursued in the ‘future’, which does not exist. It is only in the present moment that any action you take can make a difference, in this moment. It is like the saying ” If not now, when?”

All future is an illusion.

This doesn;t mean gamble away your rent money today, but it does mean, that ultimately, there is no tomorrow, only now. If you are not here now, where are you? Lost in mind, lost in a conceptulized “future” that is mere fantasy.

geeky_mama's avatar

I agree with the other posters.

Happiness comes from not comparing yourself to others, but being content with what you have.
Sometimes, and I think this is the gist of the Jonathan Tropper quote by the original poster, it takes actual effort on our part to stop and appreciate what we have as opposed to what we do not have.
Loss, pain and difficulty are just as much part of life as joy, happiness and peace. If proper perspective requires effort – some people make that effort, some people won’t.

This is just my two cents worth—but I think the happiest people are those who find joy in the simplest things. For me I am very content with a glass of iced tea and the happy expectation of a deep soak in a warm bath at the end of the day. I realize what thrills me doesn’t float everybody’s boat-but lucky me that I can be content with so little!

Coloma's avatar


I agree. Me too, it is a ‘blessing’ to revel in the simple pleasures.
One of my favorites right now is hand watering my yard in the evenings with me geese milling around at sunset. The peaceable kingdom is divine. :-)

Mariah's avatar

To an extent….I know there have been times in my life that I have chosen happiness, and I found happiness as a result of my own proactive quest for it.

But if someone’s in a shit situation and they’re having a normal emotional reaction to that, I’m not going to go blaming them for it. I won’t tell the cancer patient, “cheer up, you choose your own happiness!” That’s kind of a dick move, I think. Some people can be happy in those extreme situations, and they’re incredible, admirable people for managing it, but it shouldn’t be expected of a person, like some people will imply.

I don’t dislike the quote because he admits the difficulty of it, unlike many who approach it with a very condescending attitude.

PS: My post isn’t aimed at anyone who answered above; I haven’t read the other answers yet.

Coloma's avatar


I agree. We may not feel “happy” during times of illness or misfortune, but we can feel at peace with what is, in the acceptance of.

It may be true that most illness is stress induced via our emotional states, but, I am not going to tell a cancer patient that they caused their illness. Coming back to the now, it then becomes, simply, accepting and being caring during the present moment circumstance.

A smoker may cause their cancer too, it is obviously a more conscious choice than a person who falls ill from their unconscious emotional state, but, I would not tell the smoker ” You know this is your own fault!” Yeah, so what? It is what it is and all that matters is in the coping of the what is-ness. ;-)

mazingerz88's avatar

I’m glad I’m not getting the kinds of happiness I want since I have no doubt it would bring me to my grave faster than I can say, “Oh wow!”

Happiness true sheer willpower of being content maybe happiness in the real sense but it will never be the kind of happiness that one gets with zero compromises.

filmfann's avatar

I look around me and all I see are miracles and blessings.
What a glorious world we live in! Electric power, clean water, air conditioning…

YARNLADY's avatar

@filmfann My friend is doing volunteer work in an orphanage in Mumbai, and she sends pictures of children who have none of those things, yet they are happy and play with the meager belongings they do have.

Bellatrix's avatar

I agree with the statement. I have said before that I think I have won the lottery of life and that this thought relates to the premise of this statement. No matter how bad my life gets I am one of the lucky people on this planet.

I not only have shelter, I have lovely shelter.
I have clean water at the flick of a tap.
I have cupboards full of food.
I have not just a job, I have a very good job.
I am educated to a very high level.
I have good health and when my health fails, I have access to a great health system.
My children were born in an excellent hospital system, I had superb antenatal and postnatal care.
As a woman, there is legislation in place that means if my husband beats me or rapes me he can be prosecuted.
When I am older. I will be paid a pension, will receive the medications I need and other support services are in place.
I can access medical assistance even if I have no insurance.
I live in a country where if I disagree with something my government does, I can protest without fear.
I live in a democratic country. I can vote without fear and if my government does not live up to my expectations and my peers agree, we can vote them out.
I have never been conscious of being discriminated against.
While I don’t think gender equality is totally there yet, compared to many countries in the world, I live in utopia.

When I think about these things, I really have no reason to be unhappy. No matter how bad my life may seem. I really cannot complain. I still do at times, but I absolutely believe we can influence our own happiness by focusing on what we have rather than on what we do not have. I am however by nature an optimist.

Coloma's avatar


Awww…yes, somehow kids grew up for 100’s of years without video games and cell phones and dish network. Imagine that! :-D

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