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Being Content

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Happy Girl

“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”.

“Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time”

– Max Ehrmann, author of Desiderata 1952.

“The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are.”

– Robert Fulghum, author of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”

I believe that to be truly alive we should be hopeful, always anticipating good things to happen; and I don’t infer that one should sustain a constant state of happiness 24/7 but having a considerable measure of optimism day to day is good for our wellbeing. This natural desire for something better than our current situation gives us something to look forward to and helps us aim high, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

But you know that feeling of longing for something so desperately, you get it and then deflatingly discover that it’s not all that it seemed to be, or you don’t derive the satisfaction/fulfilment you thought it would give. It could be a new job, a new relationship, or the thrill of acquiring material possessions which has diminished, or a work promotion that doesn’t give you the pleasure you wanted etc. We then roll into the cycle of looking for the next thing, “something better”, struggling to achieve a balance between making the best of what our reality is, VERSUS thinking our life will be better when this or that happens. In a nutshell, we are left feeling dissatisfied and discontent.

This is what my post today is about. How does one stay content nowadays especially in the era of more, more and more?

I think that developing contentment is a lifelong process, one that can’t be ticked off a list like you’ll do grocery shopping. Some people may be better empowered to be content due to their  sunny disposition to life etc. but for some of us that struggle now and then, I believe contentment is a conscious act that we can imbibe and get better at. How though?

3 ways to cultivating contentment 

  1. Start with the fundamental understanding that ONLY YOU CAN MAKE YOU CONTENT. Contentment can’t be derived from a job, from having a boyfriend or spouse, a child, a house, a car, travels, money, degrees or those other things. While these things no doubt contribute immensely to our satisfaction levels, they are not intrinsic and they don’t make up our core, our values or the essence of our existence. You’re the only one that can radiate your own sunshine and that is a lifelong project you need to undertake to diminish discontentment in your life. The same way you’ve come to accept that there is always a sunset before sunrise, you should accept that in any sphere of your endeavours, your contentment cannot be derived from wanting more.  You need to understand what success means to you as knowing this will intrinsically influence  your actions.
  2. Discover who you are, figure out what makes you happy/alive, and then start living truly. When you know what your life pursuits are and you go after these, you’ll find contentment. Here is a personal, true life and casual example- my neighbour has a beautiful garden, it’s got all the frills, bird feeders, cactuses, etc. her garden pops! It makes we her other neighbours’ gardens look pitiful in comparison. She has done a great job tending to her garden, but ask me if I compare my garden to hers, the answer is a big NO. Has the thought of making my garden look more aesthetically appealing ever crossed my mind? NO. Why? Because I am not bothered that my lawn attracts no butterflies or birds, or that it is just plain carpet grass. Gardening is of little interest to me. I am not bothered by it because it is not a pursuit. In other words, you cannot be distracted by what you are not pursuing. 
  3. Don’t compare yourself with people. Easier said than done, right? The truth is, comparing yourself to others is really a waste of time. It often makes you create warped goals for yourself and as a result, you put yourself under unnecessary pressure when you engage in it.  You never know the full story of someone else’s journey so it’s best to stick to your own journey- at least you are privy to all that goes on in your life. Remember that people are in different phases of their lives, what is a new venture for you might have been embarked on earlier for them, so it is most likely that you will attain your desired outcomes at different times in life. 

Someone I know once gave me an illustration-4 people are flight bound to South Africa (SA) for a vacation, the 1st is coming from Japan, the 2nd from Australia, the 3rd from Nigeria and the 4th from India. The Japanese takes 15 hours to arrive, the Australian 12 hours, the Nigerian 6 hours and the Indian 9 hours. Did they all arrive in SA? Yes. Did they all arrive in SA at the same time? No. Everyone arrived in SA but they did at different times. Trust the timing of your life. It is pointless to compare the 2nd phase of your life to someone 4th or to any phase at all really. If anything, this is one of the main reasons why a comparison is pointless.  Are you going to use someone else’s achievements to measure your own life, or are you going to measure it on your own terms?

Contentment is not settling for mediocrity, it is not the denial of difficulties or pressures, nor is it the easing off on your pursuit of your life’s goals or not wanting to be better, it is the ability to attain and sustain an equilibrium in whatever stage of life you are in.

Reiterating these ideals on a regular basis have helped me to stay content in my life and hopefully, they will help you too. If there are other ways you employ to put discontentment in check, please share with me, I’ll love to know.

Thanks for stopping by.

PS: If you haven’t read the full Desiderata poem by Max Ehrmann yet, I urge you to. It provides some interesting perspectives…

Image Source: Pixabay

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