Contentment. Not happiness. Contentment.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, wondering how to achieve it (or, better, perhaps, how to keep it for a bit longer when it does arrive), because contentment always feels, to me, like something that goes beyond happiness, calling, as it does, to a deeper, a more stable, state.
I’ve been deeply unhappy, very unsatisfied, for many years, whilst managing to find pockets of happiness in my life (a life which, for many reasons, is being lived way below parr).
These pockets of happiness include seeing my littles grow up and witnessing their growth and their joy in life, moments of beauty that arrive to me as and when I open my ‘heart eyes’ and moments of creative stimulation and pure creativity when I feel I’ve reached my flow and what I’ve managed to realise approximates, somewhat, my ideal of it.
But, together, and overlying, as they do, my sense of deep dissatisfaction, these moments of happiness never seem to reach what I’d label a satisfactory level of contentment.
So I set out on a journey, to try and discover what I’d class as contentment (after all, if you want to get to point b, you need to know the coordinates for point b).
For me it looks a lot like freedom, includes a lot of beauty (external and self-made) and includes – most definitely – love (in heaps). All mixed with kindness and jumbled around with light [you can move over darkness; I’ve had enough of you already]
Then I started to examine where the lack was, to examine which areas of my life were lacking (in any or all of these ingredients for contentment). I also dusted off my dust-smeared glasses and rubbed them clean; after all, you can’t see you way forward if you’re being blocked by poor vision and bogged down by poor perspective. It was important that I come to the search with fresh, hopeful, eyes.
I suffer from a lack of freedom: I’m stuck here, in a place I don’t want to be, a place that’s dangerous, where frightening incidents happen frequently, where I don’t want to be raising my children…. freedom is definitely the weak link in my contentment equation. That’s an immovable fact at the moment, unfortunately [meaning I’m going to have to work double hard on improving the other components….]
I crave more beauty in my life: not only am I stuck here but this place is, in general, ugly as Hell. It’s a typical developing country city, a mess at all and every levels, survival of the fittest on display at every turn whilst the rich strut, peacock-like, shaking their voluminous tail feathers obliviously, over and above it all. Ugly buildings, ugly infrastructure, ugly hearts, small small minds. But I’m a biologist and this place does have lots and lots of beautiful Nature so I make a point of seeking it whenever I can.
I’m deprived of love. But, as Krista Tippetts states – which resonated with me at a very deep level – “I can’t name the day when I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word”. I can’t imagine ever again accepting romantic love in to my life but this sense that I’m lacking love has started gripping me with panic, as a lack of romantic love means, surely, endless days of ‘alone-ness’, of loneliness and a lack of companionship. And that most definitely puts a major dampener on contentment. But love doesn’t have to mean romantic love. Living with love can mean doing all things with love…showing love and compassion in all moments….deciding to live in love – with life itself, with one’s life….to walk in love to make your environment better (be this your home or your community).
My own, personal, life is awash with kindness (as it sort of forms the basis of my own personal religion) and this has helped me to forgive and it helps me to hope, to remain optimistic (despite my circumstances) and to always give the benefit of the doubt. In hindsight, I think my openness to kindness has kept me buoyant during times that should have sunk me. So kindness is definitely compensating for the lack of freedom, beauty and love.
I’ve definitely not got enough light in my life. Not enough laughter, or fun (or, perhaps, too much heavy that weighs everything down, not allowing light to breathe and to propagate). It’s sadly lacking in moments of light, those moments that come when you’re with those you love, those who’ve known you always, those people you just feel totally comfortable with.
And…the list went on….as the reflections went deeper…(I won’t bore you with any more of the stuff…)
What I did discover from this reflection on contentment was that, for me, I could remember what contentment felt like and I could identify what was (is) blocking my pathway to contentment at this place in my life (I hesitate to label it a stage).
Following this reflection, I could then attempt to develop some contentment goals (however strange that sounded to me at first): little steps to take me away from where I am to where I’d like to be (all the while accepting that the maximum level of contentment here will be way below where it would be if I was in more desirable surroundings).
For me, these steps were (are) really important, as depression was starting to take a hold, causing inertia: if I had a set of trackable small steps to follow, which would eventually make me feel better – perhaps even content – then I’d have to force myself to take action (otherwise I’d only have my inaction to blame for my unhappiness, for my situational discontent).
So what were my small steps? Quite simple things, really. To continue my meditation practice and to live more mindfully (not only in my actions but also in my thought and speech). To go to one new place each week. To make a new recipe (or eat something new) each week. To have guests over more often (not just play dates!). Many of them were, actually, based around self-care: trying new make-up; not skipping runs (I always know I’m in the throes of a depressive episode when I start skipping exercise); getting small treats for myself (going to see a film at the cinema, making time to read or to scrapbook guilt-free etc.).
I’ve been doing this for a month or so and it is having an effect. I feel that, whilst they’re far from being rose-tinted, the glasses through which I now view my life are definitely less dusty and jaded and that, as such, I’m walking around with a new perspective. And I hope this new perspective will lead to new places.
Contentment still isn’t viewable on any close horizon but my happiness levels are rising and that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?
I asked, a few weeks ago, for people to contribute to this contentment series and many of you replied saying they’d love to. Thanks so much for that! I know I’ll be very interested to read your perspectives on contentment and I’m sure my readers will be intrigued. (I will be emailing you all back this week; I was very ill with a horrid virus last week, which knocked me for six…)
In these times in which we live, with most of us living on edge (because of world events), busy (because of our hectic lives), unhappy/frustrated (because of a disconnect with self and the environment of inherent ‘comparison’ that social media breeds), I’m sure hearing about how other people consider/reflect upon contentment will be of interest and might stimulate some changes in our own lives.
I hope you all enjoy the guest posts in this series (they’ll be posted on Wednesdays).
[Michelle will be up first on the 6th, then Gabriele on the 13th]
If anyone else would like to contribute a guest post….just email me…I don’t bite and everyone is welcome….iwillbloomblog – at – gmail dot com