In our ongoing synopsis we have already reviewed definitions and distinctions of, and antagonisms and approaches to contentment, and the thoughts of ancient and later thinkers on it. That takes us to scientific pathways presented by psychology. Models include: (1) Erich Fromm’s humanistic paradigm of meeting authentic needs buttressed by self-respect, ethical behavior, and a capacity for relaxedness, (2) Psycho-analytical treatments of chronic anxiety which eradicate its causes and redirect energy into healthy and productive lifestyles, (3) Cognitive/behavioral techniques that facilitate tranquility and insight, (4) Positive psychology with its focus on subjective well-being, (5) Self-guided programs involving practices such as breath control and progressive muscle relaxation, and (6) Pharmacologic therapy adjunctive to psychological and philosophical efforts. To a large extent most psychologists encourage the guidance of a professional but I still believe some of these techniques and eventual success are possible by the individual alone for many of us.
We next surveyed three portals to contentment: silence, solitude, and aestheticism. Silence refers not only to finding a quiet space, but also listening to the universe, attending to the gap between sounds, and suspending unnecessary action. Solitude is a sweet spot of voluntary but reversible separation from others without subjective feelings of loneliness and augmented by self-sufficiency. Asceticism brings serenity through disciplined but moderate and ethically-consistent privation accompanied by mindfulness, and spiritual freedom.
We ended with Horace, part poet/part philosopher, who provides insights into contentment that sort into two broad categories: (1) individual actions, such as living each day fully and embracing one’s lot in life, and (2) special considerations – such as the value of friendship, the perils of romantic love, and the need to confront and prepare for death. Success, for Horace, is measured by a steady mind which we are assured is entirely within the grasp of the individual.
This completes our summary, but we have one last step in finishing our analysis of contentment as a feature of the meaningful life – a synthesis of these many pieces and philosophies into a whole accessible to people faced with the challenges of modernity. I will attempt that next time.