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MAKING SENSE OF LIFE

Contentment is not complacency

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By Dr. Terry Drew Kaaren

Do you feel content with your life? Many people have been taught to think of others first, so our desires for contentment can end up on the back burner. It isn’t that we should care about doing nice things for other people. But if we don’t ever get our own needs met we eventually become that nasty, old, person who lives alone, complains about everything, screams at kids and has too many cats. UGH!

In this issue, the third episode of our five-part series this year on self-care, the topic is contentment. To attain happiness is a goal to which we strive, though let’s face it: Most of the time our happiness can, if we let it, revolve around getting others to do, say or act the way we think they should. Our happiness must come from within and, as I recently found out in a profound way, is more easily obtained when we start from a base of contentment.

Perhaps saying I discovered this in a “profound way” is a bit more dramatic than I might have meant to convey, but it was definitely an “AHA!” moment. For me the situations, experiences and joy I derive from my life doesn’t come with a brass band, fireworks, sirens or revolving neon signs – a mirrored ball from a disco on occasions, perhaps, but I digress… More than likely it comes from sitting with a beverage (adult or otherwise) in our gazebo on a cool day, watching the animals and birds that we share our property with play, or reading a novel.

It was in one of these situations that I recent found myself. I realized, much to my surprise, that my life felt so very settled in that one special moment; I felt an overwhelming sense of contentment. Then my analytical mind took over and I wondered, Am I experiencing complacency? Why am I satisfied? Don’t I want more?

I personally find myself pathetic when I interrupt an amazing experience by questioning it. In that moment of contentment that I was experiencing, I felt deeply what it was like to stop and to appreciate my accomplishments and blessings. In a world that admires accomplishment, we can forget to enjoy the goals we reach. We too often continuing reach for the next goal before stopping to appreciate the accomplishments we have achieved. We are bombarded with the idea of “more is better.” Stores want us to believe we don’t have enough of whatever it is they want to sell us. We are encouraged to buy yet another pair of jeans, a different car, or a larger home. The advertising industry is counting on us wanting more. We are assured over and over again that if we buy this widget or get that thingamajig we will be happy. But when is enough ever “enough?”

It’s definitely possible. However, when we learn that we are in control, that we are directing our lives, it may not be quite that easy to accept. Why? Because we understand that we have the power to make the changes we desire in our lives. Change is necessary to reach our goals; we are encouraged to remember we don’t have to be stuck in anything. It’s then that we might think that being content is a sign of complacency, if only because “this was great, but could it be BETTER?”

While that’s not necessarily true, it does bring us back to the question of is enough ever really enough. Madisyn Taylor recently wrote about the topic and said this: If we do not have the ability to be happy with the blessings we have in the here and now, nothing can make us happy in the future. It’s by appreciating our blessings that we can move forward in life. Just because we are aware that we can create a life worth living doesn’t mean we have to feel compelled to be working at it all the time. In fact, it’s only by stepping aside and allowing the universe do its job that things get done. If we don’t celebrate our wins, rejoice in our accomplishments, and appreciate our blessings we will find reaching a goal rather bland.

Instead, consider celebrating your wins. If you find a dime on the sidewalk, rejoice in that additional prosperity, instead of thinking, “Well, it’s only a dime. It could have been a quarter.” If you want a different home, de-clutter and clean up the one you have and then bask in the beauty you’ve brought forward.

The more we criticize the more we’ll find to complain about. If we celebrate our accomplishments we’ll bring our consciousness to a higher level that will make complacency impossible. The question I leave you with for this installment is, would you be willing to find contentment in your life this week, and then celebrate it?

Terry is an author, speaker, licensed social worker and flight attendant. He is also the director of Spirit, Mind and Body Foundation (spiritmindbodyfoundation.org).