What is your definition of contentment? I’ve been asking friends that question and their answers have varied from achieving their goals to being happy, to living their lives in God’s will. Webster’s Dictionary defines contentment as “feeling or showing satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation” and from the book, “Shoeless Joe”, author W.P. Kinsella wrote “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” It seems that the subject of what contentment is and how to achieve it is not as clear as one might think.
A few weeks ago I had lunch with Brian, my former pastor, and after updating him on my condition he asked: “So, how are you and Mary doing?” After thinking about his question I answered: “She seems to be more understanding and I am more grateful”. His response was simple and profound “In other words, you are both focused on the things that matter”. I couldn’t argue with his point. Two days later, on Christmas Eve, I was in the ER with a high fever and a bottomed out white blood cell count. They told me at NIH two weeks earlier that chemotherapy could cause a fever and if my temperature exceeded 100 degrees to get myself to the ER immediately. I probably would have tried to tough it out at home but my wife was very persuasive so when my temperature was 100.6 on Sunday morning off we went. I’ll spare you the details but after a day of antibiotics I was feeling much better and was discharged on Christmas Day. Things could have gone terribly wrong but it was caught in time.
Brian was right. Mary and I have a better grasp on what’s really important. Stuff like what I’m going through has put everything into perspective for both of us. For the first 20 years of my working life, I struggled with finding the right career and the right relationship. After several dead-end jobs and two failed marriages, I had come to a crossroads. I could keep plowing ahead, hoping things got better or I could take a breath and reevaluate where my life was heading. I had worked hard to get what I thought would make me happy but that’s the problem. It was all about me. I can remember the point in my life like it was yesterday when I quietly let go of trying to control everything in my life and surrendered it all to God. In Proverbs 16:9 Solomon wrote: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” I have been blessed with a loving and caring wife, two beautiful children, a successful career and many loyal friends. As I reflect, I can see how much I have to be thankful for because I released what I thought was mine and sought God’s will for my life. There is obviously a strong relationship between contentment and being grateful. The following is an excerpt from an article by Joshua Baker:
I believe that discontentment opens our hearts to many unhealthy habits in our lives. For example, dishonesty is born out of discontent with the truth. Greed is born out of discontent with what we possess and substance abuse is born out of discontent with the current state of our lives. If discontent is the cause of many of our unhealthy habits, contentment is the cure. And if contentment is the cure, gratitude is the pathway to it.
Gratitude provides a proper understanding of our place in the world – Gratitude is the feeling and expression of thankfulness for the action of others that are costly to them and beneficial to us.
Gratitude assigns worth to those who rightly deserve it – Whether I am thanking a parent, a spouse, a veteran, a teacher or a policeman who has invested into my life, my response of gratitude to their action gives the praise and worth to those who rightly deserve it
Gratitude directs attention to what we already have – Gratitude always requires our attention to be the focus on the good things we already possess
Gratitude improves our overall well-being – Scientific studies over and over again confirm what we already know to be true: Grateful people are happier people
Gratitude is not a result of our circumstances – I have met grateful people in the poorest neighborhoods and the richest neighborhoods in our country. I have also met ungrateful people in both. Gratitude is a decision and a discipline – not a response
Gratitude opens the door to contentment – Gratitude helps us to understand our place in the world. It pushes our praise to those who rightly deserve it. It causes us to focus on the good things in our life. It improves our well-being
In life, we will all have ups and downs. No one is promised a life without disappointment, sorrow, rejection or pain. One of my favorite sayings comes from Lucy in the “Peanuts” comic strip when she tells Charlie Brown “The garden of life is watered best by tears of adversity”. I don’t know why I have remembered that all these years but it has served me well! It’s amazing to me though, even in the midst of all that I’m going through, how easy it is to focus on what God has blessed me with. By assigning worth to God and not dwelling on my circumstances I can be truly grateful for what He has done and my little problems fade away. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I know who holds it! To quote Bob Horne, a good friend who has since passed on, “If that’s all you have to complain about Randy, you’ve lived a pretty blessed life”. Yes I have Bob, yes I have.