Practicing Contentment

Practicing ContentmentYou are not content for the same reason I am not content.

You think contentment should be easy; but it isn’t.  Something about the very word itself, contentment, implies this ease.  After all, if you think of the last time you were content, it probably didn’t take much.  A good book, a comfortable chair, coffee.  That’s it.  That’s all.  That’s easy.  Right?

Wrong.  Contentment when it comes, and it does come, can come easily, without thought, without planning, and most of the time without cash.  But how long does it last?  What about lasting contentment?  What about a life of peace and serenity?  A life filled with easy chair moments?  How come you don’t have this?  How come I don’t have this?

Because we think about contentment all wrong.  Contentment is not like the sunrise.  It does not happen everyday whether we pay attention to it or not.

Real contentment requires practice.  Real contentment is getting up to watch the sunrise.

None of us will ever have a life packed end to end with easy chair moment.  But we can certainly have more of them.

Because even though constant contentment isn’t possible, with practice, consistent contentment is.

So How Can We Be Consistently More Content?

Consider this story:

Last week I found contentment: I went to the mall.  I like the mall.  I like to look at stuff, see what’s new, see what’s still in the stores from two weeks ago, see what’s pretty.

That said, while I was there I had to keep saying to myself: “I’m having fun.  This is fun.  I’m doing what I like.”  And I was.  For the most part.

Only, surprisingly, what was more fun than the mall, was the trip to the mall, and the trip home.

Driving into the mall parking lot, this is what I saw: eight women pushing identical strollers all wearing sunglasses and poofy vests in various colours, lime green, orange, fuchsia, yellow.  It was like it was scripted for a movie.  And as I walked from my parking spot to the mall entrance I saw a white car alone in the middle of the parking lot, parked neatly between the white lines, absolutely covered with little black birds.   It was strange.  It was beautiful.

On the way home from the mall I took the highway that cuts through the mountains.  And as I drove I turned the music up loud.  And the trees, which are still bare, curved black into the blue sky and seemed to pull down the low hanging clouds.

It was a good mall trip.  I ended up leaving early and buying nothing.  But the trip itself was worth it.

How to Be Consistently More Content

First of all, contentment cannot always be manufactured.  I went to the mall because I like the mall.  But in the end it was not the mall that I enjoyed, but the trip there.  Contentment is often like this: sudden, unexpected: warming our limbs as we drive along and our favorite song comes on the radio.

One thing that can keep us from contentment is a belief that contentment should come effortlessly.   Had I believed this, I may not have gotten up from my computer, grabbed my car keys, and headed to the mall in the first place.  I would have missed the trip there.  I would have missed the trip home.  I would have missed the good day where I bought nothing.

We need to act.   Often times when I feel down, or anxious, or simply not content, I go out.  And often times I enjoy my time spent walking, or at the mall, or having a latté.  And sometimes, I am simply just happy to get back from my excursion.  It surprises me just how often changing my mood from discontent to content involves nothing more than heading out of the house.

We can always strive to produce conditions that are favorable to contentment. We can go out when we’ve been in all day.  We can stay home when we have been out too much.  We can brew that cup of tea, put on our comfy slippers, take the dog for a walk on sunny days.   Or open the curtains, light some candles, put on a CD, stop wearing such uncomfortable shoes, and eat when we’re hungry.

The inability to live in the moment is a contentment killer.  For example, had I not reminded myself that I wanted to be at the mall, that I was enjoying myself, that that was where I wanted to be, I may not have been in any sort of mood to appreciate the trip back.  In fact, it was probably the trip there that made it so I was in this frame of mind in the first place.

The moment is really all we have.  And so often the moment is filled with distractions.  Worry, dread, pain, and even anticipation can keep us from contentment.   If I had been thinking about all the great deals on my walk into the mall I may have missed the birds.

Neglecting to remove discomforts is an often overlooked stumbling block on the way to contentment.  And it is often the easiest barrier to remove.  For example, I‘d probably be a lot more content writing this right now if I had bothered to eat dinner, if I had a nice cup of tea beside me, and if I wasn‘t writing it at the last possible minute.

Lastly, remember: contentment is like food.  One meal would never do us for a week.  Similarly, neither will one content moment tide us over for a month.  Contentment is a habit that needs to be practiced.  Every day.  Maybe even every hour of every day.

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