A glass of lemon water being filled.

The Art of Contentment

G ncGetting older and becoming more of an adult comes with some growing pains, as my mom calls them. I’ve definitely been going through them.

My twenties have so far been punctuated by a pervasive and increasing sense of uncertainty. Even though I’m learning to cope with the ambiguity of this part of my life, sometimes I struggle with it.

Additionally, moving from the relatively carefree period of my teens and childhood into the ever-increasing responsibility of my twenties has been shocking. And there is a little tint of sadness at the edges of my life as I watch my parents age and bury people I have loved dearly. The sadness comes from the events themselves, but also from the knowledge that such heart-wrenching things are normal.

So how do I make peace with the messiness of life? How do I end up like one of those women who’ve gone through decades of life and some hard things but still celebrate its goodness in the way they live with joy and optimism every day?

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The problem with future-facing living

I’d say that one of the defining features of my twenties so far has been the fact that nothing in my life is set. On the one hand, this can sometimes drive me crazy because I’m the kind of person who likes knowing what the next step is. But on the other hand, this means that I could technically do anything since nothing’s set yet. The sheer number of possibilities that come from this means that I think about the future a lot. I think there are some good things that come out of looking ahead and finding some hope in what I see there, but the side-effects of being future-facing can be restlessness, impatience, and anxiety.

Related: Self-Care for the Anxious and Overburdened

I’m guilty of treating the present as a means to an end. Sometimes, the present is something to just get through so I can get to the promise of someday, which is when I’ll finally be happy. When I think like that, I see a lot of obstacles when I look around at the present. I see things that are in my way, things that are slowing me down, things that are holding me back, and they annoy me. School becomes the thing that’s preventing me from being able to start my own life, conversations become things that are stopping me from getting to where I need to go in the mornings, the walk to the bus becomes a too-hot or too-cold trudge that’s messing up my hair and wearing down my shoes.

Perspective matters

I find it interesting that depending on my perspective, the very same things can be irritating time-sucks or the kind of moments I wish I could bottle up and experience again and again.

A few weeks ago, I read a Humans of New York post that delighted me so much I saved it.

This man’s story was wonderful to me. His life routine is simple and he finds joy in it. My grandpa was like that. He would find joy in seeing a baby on tv, belly-laugh at funny commercials, and take pleasure in knowing that people he loved were simply physically present. It didn’t mean that he didn’t have his own difficulties, but it did mean he was able to find the good in things even when life was hard. I think it was tied to his Christian faith and I believe it helped to make him patient, forgiving, and kind.

When I think about my beloved grandpa and the man in the Humans of New York post, I’m struck by the fact that the things they celebrated are also things that people ask “is this it?” about. We’ve all heard those stories about people who feel trapped by the mundane nature of their lives, the familiarity, the repetition, and the predictability. We might have been there ourselves, thinking that we need to move, or travel, or pursue some long-dormant passion of ours in order to be happy. I know I have.

Related: Finding Our Paths: Chasing the Pull | Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

But the crazy, wonderful thing about this Facebook post is that it highlights for me that contentment, and the happiness that flows from it, doesn’t have to come from perfect circumstances or drastic actions: it can come from a change in the way we think about things.

Contentment, and the happiness that flows from it, doesn't have to come from perfect circumstances or drastc actions: it can come from a change in the way we think about things. Click the caption or the top left corner of this image to pin on Pinterest.
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My perspective changes when I “zoom in” to inspect the (seemingly) little things in life. Sometimes, I walk home and notice the way the light is hitting the trees and making the leaves look like they’re sparkling. Or I’ll realize how much joy there is in just hanging out with my sister, happily eating pizza in the middle of the night. Then there are things like watching a dragonfly land on a leaf or enjoying the warmth of the early fall.

Gratitude can lead to contentment

All those things require a focus on the present, which is something that requires a little attention hijacking, especially for someone like me who spent her childhood, teenage and twentysomething years dreamily peering into the future. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think I trained my brain to think that the present didn’t matter. I’ve found that a good way to focus my mind on the present is to just be grateful. That’s it.

A few months into my year without makeup, I made the decision to get baptized as an adult (I was baptized as a baby) because my understanding of God had changed. I had gone from thinking that God was a too-close-for comfort being who was constantly angry at me to realizing that He actually loved me a lot and wasn’t trying to smite me. He forgave me for my sins. For me, that was a catalyst for gratitude. Prior to this, it was easy for my thoughts to spiral into negativity. I wasn’t exactly a positive person.

But suddenly, I started thanking God for things when I was tempted to feel upset, or ungrateful, or just focus way too much of my energy on myself.

And then I would just feel happy at the weirdest times. Failed a test? Happy. Revising something for the umpteenth time? Happy. Holed up in the library all day? Happy.

Being grateful forces me to look around at what I already have and am already experiencing and make me see how good it is. It makes me feel like I have an abundance of material things and non-material things, and I feel happy with what I have. I feel content. It’s hard to see lack when you’re feeling grateful.

I honestly think that complaining is addictive and something that can be hard to break, so I still find myself slipping into that negative mindset at times. I think the good thing is that now that I know how to get to a place of contentment, I don’t stay in that negative space. I try to do things, like thank God for 3 things each day, that get me into the habit of being present, being grateful, and being content.

But there’s also acceptance

I don’t want to leave this here. I’m not going to lie, I’m the kind of person who’s tempted to roll her eyes when people say that if you’re grateful and you look on the bright side, then all your negative feelings will go away. The truth is that some things in life cause us pain, push our buttons, and are just really hard to swallow. Finding things to be grateful for can definitely put a silver lining on the storm clouds raining all over our parades. But do you know what’s really helpful when it’s raining? Umbrellas.

I’m learning that one of my “umbrellas” is acceptance. It doesn’t sound sexy, but there’s something peaceful about accepting that there are things in our lives that we can’t change. Someone wise once told me that the longer we take to accept something, the more we suffer.

I think acceptance also releases us from the misery of thinking that all our troubles are somehow our fault. If I’m honest, some things truly are my fault, like the stress I feel when I don’t manage my money properly. But other things, like the pain that comes with the loss of a loved on or seeing people I love go through illness, happened without me.

I’ve felt for many years that one of the beautiful things about humanity is our ability to adapt, to be resilient, to keep going when things go awry. I think we tend to think about that in terms of fighting it out until we overcome whatever obstacle we’re dealing with, but I’m learning that resilience also involves letting go, figuring out how to make things work and being content in imperfect circumstances.

Related: The Cost of Chasing Dreams: Persevering Through Uncertainty & Failure

Is there something you’re struggling to be content with?

 

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39 comments on “The Art of Contentment

  1. It is so true that we are often focused on “I’ll be happy WHEN…” but I’ve been in situations where I’ve been around people with great careers, money, or family and they are STILL not happy. If we can’t figure out how to tap into gratitude, like you talk about, to learn how to be happy NOW we won’t ever be happy WHEN!

    Also I think you’re doing pretty great for your twenties! I’m in my 30s and just figuring this out haha!

    • Yes! Jim Carrey has a good quote about this: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

      I think I read that once he got wealthy, he realized that he still carried the same baggage he always did. Not that money doesn’t matter, but it’s definitely not the cure-all we like to think it is. Inknow Ineed to remind myself of that sometimes.

      Gratitude is such an amazing thing, it can make us feel so satisfied even though we haven’t gotten anything new.

      & thanks for the encouragement!

  2. This post reminds me of everything I love about your generation. As a woman of a certain age, I’d suggest writing down where you’d like to be in 5 years or 10 years. Then, tuck it into your Bible as a tangible way of putting your hopes and dreams in God’s hands and go about enjoying your right here, right now life. God is good!

    • Hey Nora! Thank you for such a lovely compliment! I will take your advice – that’s a great idea. Timely, too. I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately and thinking about what I want to be in 5 years seems like a really helpful exercise right now. Thank you! And yes – He is 🙂

  3. This was the same topic my husband and I discussed a couple of weeks ago. Basically my lack of contentment. Your post couldn’t come at any better time. 🙂

    Truly, if we saw today as a means to and end, we later realize that we enjoy nothing of value.

    Mindfulness, being truly present is very important if we want to live a great quality if life, enjoy it and find its meaning; more importantly, find our purpose during our time on earth.

  4. I hope you are doing well, You gonna be sick to see so many of my messages….lol. I just nominated you for “The Versatile blogger award” in my today’s post. You are not obliged or forced to accept that. It’s my love and I thought you totally deserve it.

  5. Just came to check on you, hows everything? Drop me a line about you when you post a new post.

    • Hey Bushra! Thanks for checking on me! I appreciate your kindness. Things are ok on my end, school has been pretty hectic though. I’m not very good at balancing everything. How do you stay organized enough to post regularly? I’d really appreciate some tips. Hope things are good on your end!

      • So glad to here from you. I knew you would be busy with studies. Blogging is hard man. I just exhaust myself…lol Thank you so much for dropping a line to tell me about you. BTW I have nominated you for the award and you are not forced or obliged to accept, t it’s my love for you. Stay blessed and stay connected!

  6. Hey girl, I need to pick up your brain. You need to come and check out my post about my blog logo and give me your honest opinion please!

  7. I agree – having gratitude for all that I have in the moment is a key to happiness. I’ve also begun doing what makes me happy in the moment instead of thinking about the future. I find that very effective as well.

    • Yes! I struggle with striking a balance between doing things that make us happy in the moment and sacrificing things we can have for the future. For example some careers require a LOT of training/hours up front but pay off down the line. But having at least some happiness in the present is so important. It helps to keep us going short and long-term.

  8. The present is all we really have at any moment. It is so easy to toss gratitude of the moment we’re in out the window. We can get stuck in the past of “what was” or so focussed on the future “of what might be(or not be)” that we miss the present. I try to remember that “waking up on the right side of the grass – is a good day already.” Thanks for posting.

    • You said this so well. It really is easy to gloss over the present moments because it’s easy to think they don’t “count.” We have a view of the big picture of both the past and the future, but the present comes to us moment by moment. But you’re right, there are things to be grateful for from the moment we wake up…starting with waking up in the first place! Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again 🙂

      • So true. I find that I almost need to be kind of strategic in reveling in the moment to appreciate whats in front of me. If I don’t, I find myself either dwelling on the past or having some wishful dream about the future. If we’re “in the past or in the future” means we’re not in the present. I think by not being or truly living in the moment, we miss much of what live is and has to offer.

        • Same here! I think (hope) that if I strategically practice, savouring the moment will come naturally after a while. Here’s to success in that for the both of us!

  9. You are wise beyond your years. I feel a connection with you through your words. Your post felt so familiar as if your pen took a walk through my brain before you put it to the paper.
    Look forward to reading more!

    • Thank you! I don’t feel wise most days, so it’s nice to hear it. I definitely feel like I have an old (or at least middle aged) soul, though.

      This is one of the things I love the most about blogging – the ability to connect to people. I’ve had that experience with other people – like they were in my head – and I’m so glad you can have that with my writing! Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward to more of your comments!

  10. It’s easy to have your mind in the future, and easy to forget to enjoy the present.

  11. I’ve never been an ambitious anything, nor have I ever been a woman. Been over 3 decades since I was a 20 something. I still enjoyed your post.

    • Hey, Fred! Thanks for stopping by! I think it’s pretty cool that having different experiences don’t stop us from enjoying each other’s stories. I’ve been trying to get into this branding thing, but it feels a little awkward! Maybe I need to revise my bio. I’m curious: what did you enjoy?

      • Can’t say much about branding. My own blog is all over the place.

        For me contentment is all about seeing beauty all around me rather than focusing on ugly things you can do nothing about. The latter just leaves you angry or tearful with the additional benefit of feeling helpless. Beauty can be found in the tiniest and most mundane things if you are open to them.

  12. Okay, so it’s obvious – my comments didn’t make the cut the first time – so here we go…lol

    I thought this was a very good post (but then again, all of your posts are). I love how you’re stopping to look at the simplest things because they do help us to stop and realize that life is so beautiful. Those small creatures don’t have a care in the world – but it’s amazing because we have so many. I loved when you said “It’s hard to see lack when you’re feeling grateful” I reallyyyy loved that and when I read it, it was like something leaped within me. I take solace in looking up at the clouds – I find that when I’m having a not so great day, just looking up and seeing those clouds and their shapes and the beautiful sky does something special to my spirit and mindset.

    Your grandpa sounded like someone I would have love, love, loved to have hung out with. I would have loved to pick his brain and see what it was like for him growing up and how did he acquire the mindset he had – You were truly blessed to have him grace your life.

    I’ve often thought about getting baptized again – so glad that you did it. I always thought that if I did, people would view or look at me funny. I got baptized when I was 8 but I don’t know if I fully understood at that time what I was really doing. I know I loved God and had felt his presence. However, it would be nice to conquer that again, knowing what I know now. Kudos to you Sis!

    Very Great Post – I always love reading what you write, it’s always very inspirational. Keep going….

    Much Love. xoxo

    • Thanks for reposting, I look forward to your comments! Sorry for any difficulty you had, I’m not really sure what went wrong.

      I really enjoy looking up at the clouds too. I like how slow-moving they are (and they still get where they’re going!).

      I really was blessed to have my grandpa. Your interest in him means a lot to me – thank you. I think his mindset came from his faith as well as the way his mother raised him. His closest siblings were/are like that too. Resilient and looking for whatever the bright side is.

      My understanding is that it isn’t necessary to get baptized at all, let alone a second time. I was taught that baptisms make our acceptance of Jesus public, but they don’t save us. We get baptized after we’re saved – Bible seems to line up with this (but please correct me if I’m wrong). That being said, when I was getting baptized, there was a woman in my group who was in her 70s or 80s when she got baptized. I think most people thought it was awesome! I’ve seen younger adults get baptized as well. Personally, it was wonderful getting baptized as an adult and having the knowledge of what I was doing. I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of inviting my friends, not all of whom are believers. Would they think I was crazy? It didn’t matter, though. When I felt the water closing in over me, the feeling that came over me was indescribable. It was true peace & I knew I did what was right for me. Needless to say, lots of happy tears followed!

      Didn’t mean to ramble on, but I just felt like I had to share that! Blessings no matter what you end up deciding!

      Thanks as always for the encouragement. It helps me to keep going.

      • No worries about the difficulty….it was cool.

        Yes, your grandpa and me would have been good ole pals.

        I agree with you about baptism in which is a representation of Jesus Christ. It’s a washing away of our old sins, the sins he dreadfully died for and rising up with new life. It’s supposed to represent us being changed from an old man and taking on a new man in christ. I’m so happy you did it and do understand about not inviting your friends, it’s hard to convince non-believers of a newness you feel, because unless they actually begin their own relationship with God; they won’t understand. But they’ll start watching you, to see if serviing God really does make a difference. I’m proud of you Sis. xoxo

        • I hope they do see a difference. It’s tricky because being Christian doesn’t make you perfect, but you’re right – I think people expect more of you, regardless of what they themselves believe.

          Thanks 🙂

  13. Thanks for that awesome share!
    Well written and so many nuggets of truth!!
    You nailed me on ‘acceptance’… a hard pill to swallow. Acceptance is hard. Very hard. But humbling. The posture of acceptance requires that in our longings and heart desires, we must recognise that God is Sovereign and that His will is always for our good!!

    I have only just found your blog and am looking forward to your upcoming posts!

  14. Wow!! I truly enjoyed this share. So many truths too…
    You nailed me on ‘acceptance’. It is hard. Very hard. But humbling.
    In the posture of acceptance, we recognise that we may have longings and desires but in all that we embrace that God is Sovereign and His will prevails!

    So glad I found your blog. I love your writing and am looking forward to more…😊

    • Hey Nichola, welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I think you make an excellent point about embracing God’s will when we talk about acceptance. Surrendering in that way can be tough, especially when we’re used to doing things our own way. I know when I first decided to surrender and give up makeup for a year, it was so hard I cried. Somehow we have to choose God every day. I’m just glad we don’t have to do this on our own – we have a Helper!

      Thank you for such an encouraging compliment! Would love to have you as part of the community here – looking forward to your comments!

  15. There is no doubt, gratitude leads to contentment and contentment leads to a peaceful life. Indeed. Present is the only moment you live your life for. We should be thankful getting up in the morning that God gave us another day to enjoy. Another amazing post from a great writer!

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