Contentment isn’t easy. At least it isn’t for me.
Contentment has a couple different definitions. The Bible defines contentment as freedom from care due to satisfaction with what one already has. Secular literature tends to equate contentment to satisfaction or happiness.
Until very recently I thought that contentment was something to be found. I’m learning that there’s no place where contentment dwells. It can’t be found; it has to be learned.
I have read A LOT about contentment in the past twelve months. I’ve studied the contentment that Paul refers to in Philippians 4. I’ve read about contentment from the perspective of eastern philosophy. I’ve read accounts of contentment in war torn Europe during the second world war. I’ve read mom blogs about being content in modern day, white collar America…the list could go on for a while. If I saw ‘content’ in the title or passage, I read it!
It’s overwhelming to read accounts of contentment in all of these situations and still not be able to attain it. I eventually began to see that none of the people I was reading about found or attained contentment, they chose it. It was an attitude.
How did they choose an attitude of contentment? It’s not as easy as waking up one day and thinking today I am choosing to be content, at least not initially.
After lots of thought I’ve come to the fluid conclusion that an attitude of contentment is more of a disposition than a feeling. It’s a habit. It’s something you wear. It doesn’t waver as situations change. That’s the beauty of an attitude of contentment, it becomes a part of who one is.
If this is the case, does it imply that contentment is inherent? Am I doomed to a life of discontentment because contentment is not woven into the fabric of my personality? I don’t think so! I think that contentment can be learned and integrated into the fabric of one’s being.
Let me tell you a little bit about my personality. Contentment is NOT an inherent part of my makeup (and if it is, it has been suppressed for so long that it had to be relearned.) I am a fixer. I am critical. I tend to live in the past, and often miss out on how good things are until they’ve passed. I wouldn’t consider myself negative, though. I have always worn a smile, and optimism has never been too hard for me. I’m just not easily satisfied. I always see how things could be better, and I’m not super comfortable unless I’m working torward improving them.
I don’t think that everything I’ve just shared with you is bad, but apart from contentment, most of these things have not been beneficial to my heart.
I think that I faked contentment for so long that when I was truly discontent for the first time I didn’t know how to choose an attitude of contentment. It’s easy to seem content when things are easy, or when the not easy things are taken care of for you. I thought I had it figured out until I got married and inherited full responsibility for my own contentment.
I know how lame this is, but I didn’t really feel like a responsible adult until my husband and I got married. Up until that point I always had my parents to fall back on. I ran most of my big decisions by them, and I knew that they would be there to help if everything went haywire.
When I got married I decided that my husband and I were responsible for ourselves. We’d chosen to become a team. He and I were going it alone. I started to feel more responsible for myself. My actions were heavier. I was all of the sudden in control of my own destiny. I (we) could choose whatever I (we) wanted! It was a good and scary feeling.
We moved to Austin, TX two days after we got married in North Carolina. It was a mutual decision that we made after spending some time in Austin for my husband’s job interview. We loved the city, and it fostered my new complete independence. We were so excited to move to Austin, and everything was fun for the first month or so.
Eventually though, I was miserable. I missed the blue ridge mountains. I missed my friends. I missed the cooler weather. I missed everything. Everything in Austin was worse than it’s counterpart in the southeast. I wanted to move back to the southeast, and I made my desires very clear.
What was my sweet husband to do? He had just moved himself and his new wife to Texas to persue a career that would help him pay off his massive student loans. He consulted her about every decision that he made. He loved Austin! He was making new friends. He loved their life in Austin, and he thought she would too, if she just tried to be content.
The first time he asked me why I couldn’t be content here I lost it! “I am content!” How dare he? The Bible tells me to be content, so I am! As if it was a meaningless label.
It took me five more years of being discontent here to finally realize that I am not content, and it has nothing to do with being in Austin! I didn’t know how to be truly content. I knew how to be happy. I could make myself happy with things in Austin, but when it came to being truly satisfied with my life, I wasn’t.
We’re on year six of being in Austin. Our location hasn’t changed much, but my attitude is changing (slowly but surely). I pray that contentment becomes my disposition (or the thing that people see when they interact with me), but for now I think it’s still something that I’m actively choosing. It is hard work, but it is paying off in so may areas of my life.
Here is a list of a handful of the things that I did to learn contentment. I still try to do these things as often as I remember to, and it turns out that true contentment kinda gives birth to these disciplines throughout my day. The more I do these things the more content I find myself. These things have been the things that have shown me what an attitude of contentment really looks and feels like.
– Practice gratitude. Say “thank you”. Look for things to be thankful for. There is always something to be thankful for!
– Find the silver lining, and admit that I’ve found it. Look for the good in your pain. Look for the lessons waiting to be learned. Try to find purpose in your struggle.
– Use my strengths and gifts. Living a life of purpose is a huge part of contentment!
– Smile. Smiling just makes me feel better. People are more receptive to people who look happy. My kids are happier when I’m smiling. I definitely don’t do it all the time, but when I’m feeling ok, I try to smile. The more often I did it, the more natural it became. I found myself being more content as a result of smiling.
– Use less negative language. The critical part of me had become very good at complaining- even if I never voiced it. I was choosing to criticize everything! When I started to actively refute my negative thoughts about everything I became more content.
I wouldn’t say that I’m content all of the time. I want to be though! I’m still learning contentment, but it has definitely become more of an instinct than it was. Right now I’m still somewhere between choosing contentment and being a content person. Contentment isnt automatic for me yet, and it may never be, but it has become much easier for me to choose an attitude of contentment!
Thanks for reading!