Why I’m Not Happy

IMG_20121107_155340You may be surprised to learn that I don’t consider myself a “happy” person. I actually don’t resonate with that word very much. It feels flimsy to me, like damp sheets hanging limply on a clothesline, the breeze whipping the thin cotton about willy nilly. “Happy” feels pleasant, yes. It feels light and airy, for certain. But it also feels transient, fleeting, so loose it could fly away. “Happy” feels like a magazine cover instead of the contents; discussions about the weather instead about when the shit hits the proverbial fan; and polite smiles instead of the kind of expressions your whole body shows, like the way a dog’s entire frame wags when you return home.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not striking down HAPPY. I’m just saying that it doesn’t hit the spot for me. I don’t get off on happy.

And maybe what I am really saying is that happy feels like just the top layer of something that is more substantial underneath.

For me what lives underneath is CONTENTMENT.

Can you feel the groundedness of that word? When I say the word to myself I feel it in my gut with a big sunshine ball of YES. I sense the flow of contentment down through my legs into my feet. Contentment feels like a deep vocalized sigh, a tender moment of inner satisfaction, a sense of “okayness” that is authentic.  I’ve never tried to convince myself that I am content, but I have tried to convince myself that I am happy.

There’s too much pressure to be happy. Contentment just is. Contentment has volume, density, capacity. It’s like a container for me to fill with the stuff of life — “happy” or not. Contentment is richness. Contentment is chocolate. Contentment is a good cry. Contentment contains multitudes.

IMG_20130308_145201In 2008, when my father learned that his cancer was terminal, I asked him if he wanted anything or needed anything to see, to do, to experience before… (he died — the words I couldn’t say at the time and instead left the ellipsis there in my speech). He said to me, “Everything I need is here: my home, my family. It’s you, my family, I want. Do I wish I could live longer? Yes. I don’t feel I’m ‘done’ yet, but if this is it, I am content to be here with you, with those I love. Everything that is important is already here.”

This memory is not a happy one for me, but it is one of contentment. And I can cry as I write this and tell you that I am crying — and this does not mean that I am not okay or that I feel life is dismal. What it means is that I am being true, just as my father was true with me. Just as you are true to yourself when you put your honest feelings into the contentment container and you can create a lovely satisfyingly deep sigh and say, yes, this is my life, and I am content and okay and balanced and maybe even joyful in this very moment, for right now — and that is enough. Actually, that is damn good.


About Courtney Putnam

I first came to healing work through art and writing. Creating collage art and poetry in particular allowed me to deeply understand the benefit of self-expression in the healing process. But, I also began to see the benefit of bodywork (manual work in the form of massage and energywork in the form of Reiki) as keys to unlocking the emotional stresses we hold in our bodies. I became a Reiki practitioner in 2002, received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2003, received my massage license in the spring of 2006, and became a Reiki Master in 2010. In my practice I bring together these three areas -- the body, the mind, and the spirit (or energy body) -- so others may experience profound and positive change in their lives.
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11 Responses to Why I’m Not Happy

  1. cjink says:

    Thank you again Courtney for taking the time to choose such accurate words to express something that feels true to me. I have a feeling that this will resonate with many people. There is something very freeing about knowing this.

  2. Bold and beautifully written. Tears in my eyes as I finished reading it. As someone who has dealt with depression since childhood, I really connected to the societal ideal of happiness and the reality of accepting how you really feel and being okay with it. That is contentment. That is my goal as well. Thank you.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience here, Cherelyn. You’re right — happiness is a societal ideal that permeates, isn’t it… And those who “don’t get” depression also don’t “get” how to talk about the myriad of emotions that may lead us to contentment and sometimes happiness is not one of them.


  3. monk-monk says:

    I really resonated with this! I too don’t really seek happiness, but you put it so eloquently what it is I’m searching for..contentment!
    I love that story of your dad. I was watching a facebook discussion on bucket lists and regrets and all the things she wanted to do before she died, but I like your dad’s response…seems like it scraped away all the material things and experiences, and boiled it down to family and in the present moment.


    • Jenna, Yay for contentment! It’s so rooted!

      And I love your observation about the scraping away of material things/experiences to the essence of what we want in the present. What might happen if we each did this every day?! 🙂


  4. jillsalahub says:

    Yes, yes, “a big sunshine ball of YES.” Happiness is the smoke, but contentment is the fire, (joy is the heat? love the red coals?). Happiness is sugar, but contentment is bread. Happiness is the flower, contentment the fruit, or maybe the roots. I know exactly what you mean. xo

    • Jill, I love all your metaphors! 🙂 Oooh, I love the image of contentment being the fire and smoke being the happiness. The fire can blaze on contentedly, but the smoke can blow away….


  5. Tracy says:

    I understand what you mean. Perhaps the word ‘happiness’ has been diluted so that it’s meaning has lost much of it’s true power. The true meaning of happiness is simply that your needs have been met… and it really is a hat-tip to the feeling of well-being and goodness associated with that. So really contentment is about being good with what is… and happiness is the next step up from contentment: being good with what is… and all your needs have been met. Thanks for writing this, you write really well. This post gave me some good stuff to ponder about- just wanted to share my thoughts with you…

    • I love what you say about happiness simply meaning that your needs have been met. Tracy. Your words add a lovely layer of depth to this happiness & contentment exploration!

      peace and light,

  6. momasteblog says:

    This is beautiful. And something I’ve been musing about this week as well. Thank you.

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