The most important word in the English vocabulary, and why you should appropriate it


I should immediately acknowledge the fact that what I’d put up as the most important word in the English vocabulary is very relative; it’s according to me. This acknowledgement leans against the backdrop that different people and organizations hold different words to highest esteem. Needless to say that it is justice to the legal practitioner, and equality to the feminist, and salvation to the churchman. Secondly, inasmuch as next to everyone has gone diehard-relativist, insisting, as it were, that nothing holds same for all, I invite you to open-mindedness; follow my argument and then derive the conclusion from the premises I’ll provide.

Without much ado, that word is Contentment. The dictionary I’ve here, Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, renders the meaning of the word Contentment as: “The happiness you feel when you have everything you want and you enjoy your life.” It goes on to give this example: “He has found contentment and satisfaction in his work.” Before we proceed, let me immediately make a note of correction on that dictionary meaning. If that definition had been rendered by an economist, “need” would have taken the place of “want.” Why, because it has come down to us from the wisdom of economists that human wants are insatiable, given that the resources to meet them are scarce, and hence the all-importance of scale of preference. And so, let’s replace “want” with “need” in that definition, without which contentment is mission impossible. Come to think of it, how do we even begin to talk about satisfaction from meeting wants when we know that wants in themselves are insatiable?

Let’s get arguing, then. The very first premise upon which my claim that the most important word in the English vocabulary is Contentment appeals to a larger-than-life authority: Aristotle. For Aristotle, the supreme goal of life, the most important need in life, is happiness. The very Greek word he used is eudemonia. “Eudemonia” only loosely translates as happiness. My philosophy professor, Fr. Njoku, taught me that wellbeing and human flourishing are better translations of that Greek word. The Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas, in Christianizing Aristotle’s philosophy moved the supreme goal of life an inch further. For him, informed by the pursuit of heaven, that goal is beatific vision – to see God. We can already see here, from these authorities, and even from commonsense, that the one biggest goal we all aspire to is happiness, wellbeing, flourishing. In contemporary parlance, that word would be fulfillment.

The second premise of the argument hovers around the question of method. Simply put, “How do we attain happiness, how do we reach fulfillment, how do we realize wellbeing, and how to we get to flourish?” The truth is that we’re all in this race for happiness, fulfillment and wellbeing; no one is left behind. Come to think of it, who doesn’t need to reach the supreme goal of life or realize the supreme purpose of life? By my tunic, the only one who doesn’t have that need is Mr. Nobody. Another cause for concern is this, “If we’re all in this race for the attainment of happiness, why is there so much unhappiness and sorrow, bitterness and rancor, acrimony and hate, backbiting and backstabbing, rumour mongering and gossip, stress and depression; why is happiness proving to be out of reach; at best, why is it so temporary, breezing in and breezing out? The answer is simple: many people are running off-track, they’re singing off-key. And when you run off-track, the finish line is out of reach; when you sing off-key, the best you can get is cacophony.

Here comes the only way to happiness: Contentment. It is captured in this wisdom of the sages: A man or woman who is contented with his or hers is a happy man or woman. There is no gain saying that this is a familiar line, but the ubiquity of unhappiness shows that only a handful of human beings understand its meaning. Yes, ours is a world where next to everyone “crazily” craves for more. Mind you, the craving for more is not symptomatic of the lack of contentment; it is the dissatisfaction with what one already has that showcases the lack of it. And, the truth is that this dissatisfaction with what one already has has a way of corrupting the craving for more, such that this naturally harmless “craving” metamorphoses to anxiety and then to greed.

What readily comes to mind when one is convicted of misappropriating public funds or defrauding another to the tone of billions of dollars, an amount that equals the budget of some countries? What readily comes to mind when a spouse goes cheating – not because the other isn’t performing? What comes to mind when families are at war on issues bothering on land and execution of will? What comes to mind when a college professor demands a bribe from students or requests a student the age of his or her grandchild to service him/her in bed? The answer is greed. And, how on earth will such a person know happiness or reach fulfillment? I don’t think they can.

Now, the conclusion… I leave that to you.