One of the founding principles of the country in which I live is that human beings have an "unalienable right" to "the pursuit of happiness." Thomas Jefferson was wise, but with a practical bent (he was not a utopian dreamer): it is the "pursuit" of happiness that is an unalienable right, not happiness itself. Alas, a great many of my fellow Americans believe that they are entitled to be "happy." Whether they have ever read, or heard of, the Declaration of Independence (and whether they know who Thomas Jefferson is) I will not venture to say.
In any event, "content" seems gentler, calmer, quieter, more reflective, and -- one hopes -- more attainable than "happiness."
Stanley Roy Badmin, "Bow Brickhill, Bletchley" (1940)
For a start, here is one way of looking at our options.
Were I a king I could command content.
Were I obscure, unknown should be my cares.
And were I dead, no thoughts should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears.
A doubtful choice, of three things one to crave,
A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave.
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), in Norman Ault (editor), Elizabethan Lyrics (1949).
Stanley Roy Badmin, "Storm over Pole Hill, Kent"
Well, then, a cottage it is.
In crystal towers and turrets richly set
With glittering gems that shine against the sun,
In regal rooms of jasper and of jet,
Content of mind not always likes to wone;
But oftentimes it pleaseth her to stay
In simple cotes closed in with walls of clay.
Geoffrey Whitney (1548-1601), Ibid.
"Wone" (line 4) is defined by the OED as "to stay habitually, dwell, live." The "walls of clay" of the "simple cotes" in the final line bring to mind Yeats's "And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made" from "The Lake Isle of Innisfree."
Stanley Roy Badmin
"Flooded Meadows at Olney, Buckinghamshire" (1940)
Here is a lengthier consideration of what content consists of.
Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content;
The quiet mind is richer than a crown;
Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent;
The poor estate scorns fortune's angry frown:
Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss,
Beggars enjoy, when princes oft do miss.
The homely house that harbours quiet rest;
The cottage that affords no pride nor care;
The mean that 'grees with country music best;
The sweet consort of mirth and music's fare;
Obscured life sets down a type of bliss:
A mind content both crown and kingdom is.
Robert Greene (1558-1592), Ibid.
I particularly like the lovely alliteration and assonance of "the homely house that harbours quiet rest" and "sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent." And the idea of attaining "a type of bliss" (a fine phrase) by living an obscure life is very nice.
Stanley Roy Badmin, "Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire" (1940)