What is contentment and where do we find it?
Contentment is not a word commonly used in our culture. And how to attain contentment is considered by some as one of life's mysteries. According to our good friends Merriam-Webster, to be content is to feel or show satisfaction with one's possessions, status or situation. Yet, we must learn contentment is not found; it is an attitude.
I'm not naturally a content person. It's easier for me to fixate on what I don't have than to count my blessings. Given the fact we live in a culture that continually appeals to our desires for more or better, I am certain I'm not the exception. We are constantly reaching for a smarter phone, a bigger house, a faster car or even a hotter spouse.
On top of our consumer culture's constantly agitating influence, there is a sneaky little lie that quietly robs our lives of contentment. It goes something like this: I'll be more content when I finally have what my heart desires most.
Let me illustrate that lie with a little story. When I was in my 20s, I was convinced I could not be content, happy, complete until I found the precious treasures of marriage and children. Overwhelmed by despair and frustration, I reached out to an older, wiser mentor and her advice to me was that I needed to learn to enjoy each stage in life. There are many good things that come with being single such as freedom, options and flexibility. She reminded me that a discontent single person would more than likely be a discontent married person.
A few years later, after husband and children became a reality, I found myself struggling with the same feeling of frustration. At that season in my life, despair and frustration were blamed on exhaustion, money issues or lack of quality time. Life is a great teacher, though, and as time went by, I learned to appreciate its different stages and the fact that life is not about me.
We must learn to be content. This requires us to retrain our brain in terms of how we see ourselves and our lives. For example, we need to clearly differentiate between a need and a want. Marketing companies spend a great deal of human and financial capital convincing us that a want is really a need. They have been very successful at doing it. However, mature individuals are able to differentiate between the two and follow the proper course of action. Social science has shown that those individuals who practice delayed gratification are more apt to do well in their careers and are better adjusted.
Striving for more or better is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it is part of the American fabric. However, we must reconsider the course of action when we see that striving for is negatively affecting our current situation or mood. In my example above, life itself is a journey. It is not merely the milestones that are enjoyed, but rather the path along the way. It is the memories, laughter and pictures that remind us of times that produced the most joyous moments in our life. A person who is completely aware of all the benefits they have going for them is more apt to enjoy them.
Dubia Zaragoza is an associate professor of family studies/psychology at Arizona Western College. She can be reached at email@example.com.