The Case for Contentment

The Case for Contentment

14 May 2021
Feature

The Case for Contentment

According to Daniel Cordaro, contentment is our felt sense of unconditional completeness regardless of circumstance. It is an emotion that sits at the deepest core of human wellbeing and is foundational to the experience of fulfillment in life.  Contentment is available to us at any given moment.

Dr Cordaro is the Founder and CEO of the Contentment Foundation. An Edmund Hillary Fellow and former faculty member at Yale University, he led three of the largest cross-cultural studies on human emotion ever conducted in the field of psychology (Cordaro et al, 2016). Dr. Cordaro has spent the last decade of his career studying what it means to live a flourishing life and sharing the findings with schools around the world.

“More” vs “Enough” Strategy

Based on their research, Dr Cordaro’s team identified two key strategies that humans have been using for thousands of years to find some form of well-being.  The first is the “More Strategy,” where people try to find more money, more power, more stuff, more validation, and more success from the world outside of them.  While there is nothing wrong with temporary boosts in wellness, the problem with the More Strategy is that it is simply not sustainable. The More Strategy costs a lot of time, energy, and resources to keep it up.

This is where the second strategy comes in, and it is one that is worth studying deeply.

This is the “Enough Strategy,” where people direct their attention inward to find the happiness that’s already inside of them.  While pouring through thousands of years of ancient wisdom traditions, Dr Cordaro’s team found that ancients almost never used the word happiness when they were talking about what it means to be well.  More than 90 percent of the time, they used the word contentment, and described it as a state of “unconditional wholeness,” regardless of what is happening externally.

Being “Intact” and “Whole”

The root of the word contentment comes from the Latin contentus, which means “held together” or “intact, whole.”  Originally, contentus was used to describe containers, literally things like cups, buckets, and barrels.  Later, the word evolved into something that could reflect onto a person, which describes one who feels complete, with no desires beyond themselves.  Contentus asks the question, “How whole do you feel inside? How complete are you as a human being?”  This perspective shifts the entire narrative of humanity’s quest for something greater.  All other emotions require external input; they are reactions to the outside world.  Contentment, on the other hand, requires no external input and is entirely from within.  Instead of seeking external sources for happiness - which are always going to be out of our control, contentment offers an incredible power and stability.

In short, contentment comes from our relationship to what is going on around us, rather than our reaction to it.  It is the peaceful realization that we are whole and complete just as we are, despite the anger, sadness, joy, frustration, and excitement that may come in and out from time to time.

Transforming Wellbeing in Schools: The Four Pillars Curriculum

The Contentment Foundation offers child and adult-centered wellbeing curricula to schools internationally. It further provides resource support to help schools track, measure, and improve their physical, psychological, and emotional wellbeing using science-based measurement tools. See here for more information.

As a schoolwide curriculum, the Four Pillars of Wellbeing is available as a whole-school transformation for teachers and students.  The school community can access rich videos, audios, animations, and workbooks that cater to multiple styles of learning.  Each of the four Pillars, “Mindfulness”, “Community”, “Self-Curiosity”, and “Contentment & Balance” are taught by experts in the fields of positive psychology, education, and philosophy. The immersive training experience includes a diverse array of engaging content for different personalities and needs, and it offers practices that can readily be adopted to become an important part of the school life.  

Locally, Middleton International School has rolled out the Contentment Curriculum since June 2020 with good outcomes. To find out how the principles of Contentment can be integrated into school programmes, please view the video below:

Photo taken at Middleton International School, Tampines Campus. From Left: Li Theng, Vice-Principal/Yu Neng Primary; Yeow Ling, Principal/Yu Neng Primary and SPEN Core Educator Group Member; Atima, Principal/Middleton International School and roll-out representative of Contentment Foundation; Matthew, Senior Vice-Principal/Middleton International School and SPEN Strategy Group Member.
Photo taken at Middleton International School, Tampines Campus. From Left: Li Theng, Vice-Principal/Yu Neng Primary; Yeow Ling, Principal/Yu Neng Primary and SPEN Core Educator Group Member; Atima, Principal/Middleton International School and roll-out representative of Contentment Foundation; Matthew, Senior Vice-Principal/Middleton International School and SPEN Strategy Group Member.

Reference:

Cordaro, D. T., Brackett, M., Glass, L., & Anderson, C. L. (2016). Contentment: Perceived completeness across

cultures and traditions. Review of General Psychology , 20 (3), 221.

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