“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 New International Version (NIV)
Why I am No Longer Trying to be Happy.
Seven Thoughts on Contentment
When asked about what they really want for their lives, many people will respond that they want to be happy. And for a long time I would probably answer that question the same way. However, I have discovered that while it sounds like a great answer, seeking happiness has some real problems. Happiness is often subject to a variety of exterior factors. This often makes happiness quite fleeting.
The dictionary defines happy as “delighted, please or glad, as over a particular thing.” The problem is once that particular thing is gone, the happiness often disappears with it. This leads to the emotional roller coasters on which most of us live our lives. We continually move between ecstasy and agony. While I recognize that some of this is unavoidable, I have come to realize that the issue is our attempt to seek this fleeting idea of being happy. I am now no longer seeking happiness, but instead, I am trying to gain contentment. Unlike happiness, contentment is defined as the state of being satisfied and having a mind at ease.
Contentment is not easy; in fact, it is often quite a struggle. Happiness can appear out of nowhere. Even people who consider themselves unlucky eventually have something good come along that makes them feel happy. And most of us have those things come along quite regularly. While the old adage might remind us that the sun does not shine on the same dog’s butt every day, it also reminds us that eventually the sun shines on everyone, no matter what we do or do not do.
However, contentment is different from this – it relies on no one but you.
As I have begun to recognize and struggle with this truth, I have discovered several rules that are helping me in my efforts to achieve contentment. I hope by sharing them, they may help you to find a life of satisfaction where your mind is truly at these.
Please note that while I am phrasing these statements in terms of “you,” that these questions are the ones I ask myself daily.
- You are responsible for your own joy. No one can create your joyful life but you. It is not up to your spouse or parents or siblings or friends or colleagues or boss or spiritual adviser. It is up to you. If you want a joy-filled life then it is up to you. Henri Nouwen reminds us that, “joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
What will be those things that bring you joy, again is up to you. Everyone finds joy in different area. Some find that joy in doing triathlons – that is not me. Others find it in gardening or music or cooking or in many other ways! The possibilities are limitless, and while I cannot even start to guess what your joys will be, I can offer one thing that I have always found to bring joy. This is the joy found in service to others. If you are not sure where to start in finding your own joy, start by simply giving of yourself. I assure you that it will bring joy.
And finding joy is the starting point for creating a life of contentment.
- You are responsible for your own growth. Your growth personally, professionally, and spiritually is up to you and your efforts. If you want to improve at your work, you need to find those professional development activities that will help you grow. If you want to be better at your hobby, then you need to practice and push yourself. Want to get closer to God? Then you must set aside time from prayer and scripture and worship.
As human beings, we are at our best when we are striving and growing. It is why we are explorers. It is why we are inventors. Contentment of the heart and soul means we are never content with where we are. Alas, we either grow or die.
- You are responsible for your own health and wellness. Exercise, proper nutrition, getting the sleep you need, brushing and flossing, getting checkups, taking prescribed medications, and taking time to engage in mindfulness are all up to you. Certainly there are supports available for all of these things both from others and even apps on your phone! However, at the end of the day it is up to you.
While an app can remind you to brush your teeth, doing so is up to you. Scheduling workouts is great but showing up and doing them requires your effort. Support groups and counseling require you to both show up and follow through with the advice.
The choice about all of this is yours and mine. In John’s Gospel, Jesus asked the paralyzed man if he wanted be well. I often imagine that question is one God is asking me. Do I really want to be well – if so I know what to do – the question is do I really want to do these things. Do I really want to be healthy enough to find contentment?
- You are responsible for how you see the world.
Are you grateful or are you bitter?
Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?
How you view life is up to you.
If you want to find the bad, it is always available.
I must admit this is probably the area I struggle with the most. I struggle with finding possibilities in the midst of problems. Yet I recognize this is a key area for my own growth.
Now I am not saying to go out and buy a set of rose-colored glasses. But finding the potential in times of troubles is what contentment is all about. Making choices to find hope is essential to a full life.
- You are responsible for creating your own vision. Too many people go around from day to day with no direction – no vision. Scripture reminds us that where there is no vision the people perish.
To find contentment you must find a vision, set goals, and create a plan. Your vision may change over time and it can be very simple. In fact, the speaker and author John Gordon encourages an individual’s visions to be just One Word. Whatever your vision is, make it easy to remember and worthy of your effort.
Having a vision will be a powerful step towards a contented life.
- You are responsible for being part of a culture that provides affirmation.
Business leaders often remind the managers they work with that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without a culture that provides positive energy, your strategies will always struggle. A life of contentment will be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
You must find those people who help you to be your best. Those people will also bring you joy. They will help you see a hopeful future. It is as your parents said – choose your friends wisely.
Sadly, this will sometimes mean moving on from those who are hurtful and not helpful.
And sometimes it may be hard to find those who are on similar paths.
Nevertheless, just as a bad apple can spoil the bushel, one negative relationship can prove to be a disease on your soul.
- You are responsible for discovering your whys.
The whys are the big questions of your life. Often you will need to ask them again and again in order to find the bottom line real and truthful answer.
It is essential to keep asking why as you make decisions. If the answers fit your vision, help you grow, and bring you joy, then you are on the right track to helping find your state of contentment. If it does not, then odds are you need to do something else.
Contentment is like sitting on a quiet beach and watching the sunrise or rocking a newborn who has curled up in your arms. It is a feeling that you wish would never end.
This is what I encourage you to seek. It will bring peace to your life and allow you to face both good times and bad times with grace and hope and joy.