Jessica Oliver shared this piece at our July Story-share on the theme of ‘Contentment’.
The trouble with language, is that it struggles to convey the depth of lived experience. Words on their own become definitive full stops.
This word means that, the definition of this word is this. No, you can’t use that word because it doesn’t actually exist, don’t believe me? Check the dictionary.
For me, the word ‘contentment’ holds a frustratingly subjective quality. It’s loaded with emotions I can’t quite identify, but which I feel at the base of my spine, in the cavity of my chest, lodged in the back of my throat like a persistent speck of dust.
I know that contentment is not the same thing as complacency, but experience tells me otherwise. Contentment speaks of happiness in normality. And normality is the same thing, day after day after day. So unyielding, so rigid: applauded simply for the fact that it consistently exists. If normal is an excuse for shitty things remaining unchanged then contentment makes me want to scream.
But contentment also invokes an element of longing. An aspiration for happiness in the present, when aspirations are solely for the future.
The promise of contentment has always been full of dreams and deals with myself:
When I graduate. When I move house. When I get a better job. When I go to Oman. When I finish this essay. When I lose 3 kilos and can fit back into my jeans.
Once. When. If.
Contentment is an impossible bargaining tool, an excuse not to think about action in the present. The future is whatever I want it to be, its eventuation is irrelevant.
I still haven’t finished that essay, I still dream of far-flung places and I still can’t fit into those fucking jeans.
Contentment requires a certain amount of patience, but I’ve never been too good at standing still. Behind every quiet moment lies a vague niggling of apprehension, a half remembered thought of something important I’ve forgotten to do, or say, or be.
The familiar fingers of anxiety tap me on the back and whisper, ‘is that really good enough?’
For me, real contentment is a slippery eel that appears in short bursts of revelation. It cannot be held for very long but I savour it as much as possible before it slides away.
Contentment is in the immediacy of silhouetted trees and a dusky twilit sky. It is in the rustle of well-thumbed pages in the sunshine or the final arrangements of a sweet-smelling bouquet on a pottering Sunday morning.
Contentment is the thrilling midnight cycle home, brave and fast in the way that only a night of good wine and better company can provoke. It’s cleaning the puppy poop off the living room floor, which is gross but means I have a puppy, and at least she didn’t poop on the carpet this time.
Contentment is in the tiny moments, the forgotten moments, the moments where I least expect to find it. It’s the burst of joy in my chest at the exhilarating thought of being alive.
Contentment is when I shut myself out of my brain, for just a second, feel the cold wind ruddying my cheeks, smell the woodsmoke hanging in the air and understand that I am here, in this moment, exactly where I am meant to be.