Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

~ Confucius ~

French For Happy

October 9th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 13 secs

French thinking about happiness.

French thinking about happiness.

French thinking can teach us a lot about happiness. On the surface, the French way seems more focused on frivolity and frippery. But don’t let that deceive you. Beneath the tourist industry exterior dedicated to shopping, fun, and frolic, there beats a rather serious heart.

For inside the French psyche is a considered attention to life (though, really, you could call it a European thing as Europeans are more interested in the whys and wherefores of life as a matter of course). While, somehow, in the English-speaking realm, contemplation and daily life have become divided.

This means  (and forgive my generalizing) deep thinking and philosophy are not taken very seriously amongst most English speakers. Someone thinking deeply triggers uneasiness. People are wary because, well, who knows what they are thinking about? Even if it’s not strictly bad, it definitely cannot have anything to do with being happy.

Not so the Europeans. As a cultural value, it is worthy to have a personal philosophy. Your take on life quintessentially reflects you and people value that.

But what the French do that I find particularly endearing is that they tend to value happiness too. Wisely, the French word for happy is content, and that blending of thought and joy says it all.

Apart from all the fun side of life (which we all happen to enjoy), the understanding that lasting happiness is really about contentment is what so many of us are missing.

Perhaps it’s cultural. Or, maybe, it’s a fault of the English language that the term happy got bound up in concepts of pleasure and missed its origin in satisfaction.

Certainly, the use of the term happiness in the US Constitution has echoed through the thinking of people right around the world. For in trying to define freedom and good living, this national charter threw in ideas that modernity has interpreted to mean very different things.

Experts suggest Thomas Jefferson’s mention of happiness was in the context of doing well to others, being of good will, and felicity in living honorably. Whilst, today, happiness is often portrayed in an amoebic way (“I wanna be happy! It’s my right and I want it now!”).

Of course, the pleasure bent version of being happy is never going to work. At least, not for long. Like the prodigal son, who blew his bucks away in wild living, good times are finite. Either they, our bank account, or our desire to chase them sooner or later run out.

That’s why I admire the French for having the insight to pair being happy with contentment. From the people who surely know how to have a good time and (with some of the best cuisine in the world), that’s saying something. Because, if anyone knows a thing or two about good times, the French surely do.

So is there wrong in pleasure? Not unless we bring it to it. But for all the immediate gratification pleasure brings it’s never going to be enough. To find your way along the road to happiness, you need to be content, and that only comes through making something beautiful  from what you do.

A Gutful Of Happiness

Can I Really Be Happy?

Use Your Hard Times Too


Comments are closed.