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The Contentment Conundrum

So, up until recently the only thing I knew about hormones was that they are the bane of any adolescent’s life! But recently reference to various hormones have been popping up to intrigue me.

Some time ago I was drawn to a reference to serotonin while I was reading Owen Fitzpatrick’s book, Not Enough Hours (ironically it had been in the house for a few years before I got around to reading it!) In it he talks about happiness and in particular he describes two kinds of happiness:

Contentment and satisfaction which are derived from being happy with one’s current lot and indicated by an increase serotonin which keeps us happy to plod along where we are. We don’t need to do anything to be happy, we just are. He describes this as the Eastern type of happiness.

But the other kind of happiness is the kind that keeps us motivated, interested and forward looking. The type that makes us want to do better: it “involves concepts such as success, drive and achievement”. The kind that makes the hours fly by when we are fully engaged with a task we love and that brings us joy. It’s our get up and go and it’s fueled by dopamine. Fitzpatrick says this is the western type of happiness.

He explains that both hormones exist on a type of seesaw. So, production of one inhibits the other. This explains, he says, why people with a high dopamine level, fueled by happiness derived from outside achievements are rarely models of contentment. Likewise, people who are extremely content are not usually that motivated to push themselves towards achievements.

The trick, as with so much in life, is to balance the two. Fitzpatrick advises setting goals and ways to improve ourselves, whilst at the same time making time for gratitude, mediation etc to help us relax and feel good about ourselves.

I realised with a shock that I was suffering from a full-blown case of contentment! I had left a job that I felt no longer fitted me or my family and was happy doing nothing (well, not nothing, I am a mum of 2 school going children), but I was happy at home, doing the lunches and the washing and pottering around, meeting friends for coffee and doing some reading. There were days that I might not leave the house, or speak to another human adult, except my husband, and do you know what, that was OK, it even felt good. I was, what was it again? Content.

So that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? That’s what we all strive for? So why was I feeling a bit rudderless, a bit at sea? Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to come across as smug and full of domestic bliss. I had my moments of frustration and bad moods. And I am well aware that some people are not lucky enough to be happy and content in their home lives and could not imagine being so.

So, was my seesaw out of kilter? Did I have too much serotonin? As we all know it’s the “happy hormone” and also the “sleepy hormone”. I was beginning to think of the 7 dwarfs! Who wants to be happy and sleepy at the same time? I do, but, only when I’m tucked up in bed about to drift off.

So, I needed a little bit of dopamine in my life (But not too much as dopamine is also associated with such vices as addiction and gambling. Read this if you want a bit more science). So, to do that I needed to motivate myself and set some goals and strive towards them.

So, I started writing my blogs, working on my coaching business and volunteered as a coach with a jobs charity. I also started “networking”. Through all of this I have got to meet so many interesting and inspiring people, made friends, made contacts, heard wonderful speakers and got new clients.

Although I still am lucky enough to have feelings of contentment, I’ve also got my get up and go back!

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