Contentment. What a Concept.

Today I was listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast. It’s one of my go-to podcasts as they normally have topics that are interesting, contemplative, while largely being accessible. They are things that we think about even if we don’t realize we think about them often.

On the episode I was listening to today to the episode called “Wisdom in Hindsight”. Now, TED Radio Hour programs are usually about an hour long, with one theme, but with different guests telling small stories, with some segments from their previous TED talks thrown in. I didn’t have very long today so I only listened through the first segment. They are talking along, discussing ping pong, world diplomacy, competitiveness, and the segment ends on contentment. The segment is with Pico Iyer and is called “What Can Ping-Pong Teach Us About Life.”

Here are his last comments of the interview:

“Exactly. As I get older, I notice it’s the tiny things in life – the trivial, the stuff that we overlook – that really brings the illumination. I think when I was in my teens and when I was at college – again, I thought I have to read this weighty book of philosophy, and I have to think about the meaning of life, and I have to grapple with all these existential questions to bring life to the floor, to come to terms with it. And I delight in the fact that it’s the most ephemeral, silly-seeming aspects of life that are often instructing me. And I would say that Ping-Pong has taught me these life lessons more than all the solemn-seeming books or ideas I’ve entertained over the years.

And I like it because, of course, it’s also experiential. When I’m talking to you now about winning and losing in the Ping-Pong club, I’m really talking about how I feel when I go home every day. And there’s no arguing with or speculating about that. I know that I come about every day, regardless of the score, really refreshed and invigorated and eager for the next day.

And of course, this applies to everything. Whether it’s being a radio host or playing tennis or being a parent or – you know, this is what contentment is, to be freed from the sense of me against the world.”

It’s that last sentence in particular that caused me to pause and reflect. “This is what contentment is, to be freed from the sense of me against the world”. This led me to look up the definition; according to the Cambridge Dictionary it is “happiness and satisfaction, often because you have everything you need.”

In reality I have everything that I need. I have people that love me. I have my health, a roof over my head, the ability to buy food and groceries. I sometimes get so bogged down in feelings of inadequacies because my career hasn’t gone even remotely how I thought it would or wanted it to that I forget all of the positives of it. However, I think if I think of contentedness, I might start to be on to something. “To be freed from the sense of me against the world.” I am going to work to do that. To find contentment in the big and small parts of life to be freed from the sense that it is me against the world, that maybe the world isn’t actually against me. Maybe I just need to look at the good parts and on the days when it feels that the world is against me I’ll try to remember that it is not me against the world, and strive for that glorious and wondrous feeling of contentment.

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