Instead of giving the straight definition from the dictionary I will describe contentment as this: being satisfied with life despite the things you are going through at any given moment. So if you are in a lot of debt it isn't like being content with yourself means that you won't try to eliminate that debt, it just means that you realize that even if you get rid of that debt it won't make a difference on how you feel about yourself or life. So even if you don't have the latest toys or even if your health isn't where it should be you can be content. This is something I think very few of us achieve but I think whether we know it or not we are all trying to find it. The problem is that we tend to look in the wrong places to satisfy that need for contentment.
What would make you happy?
Ebay, the online auction store, had a slogan when they first started: “What would make you happy?” The idea was that in your life you are currently not happy but if you go to ebay you could find relics from your childhood that could remind you of happier times. So my question to you is “What would make you happy?” I know in my life this was the case that I would try to find that state of happiness in the wrong things and then those things would end up only making things worse. For example when I used to collect stuff, if that "stuff" was a part of an on going series then if I don't have the next in the series I would feel anxiety. It's a scary thought but I think everyone has a similar obsession in their lives and it really doesn't have to be only physical stuff. It could be related to relationships or checking everyones updates on facebook or twitter. It's that constant need to feel complete and we have our "stuff" to distract us from our lives. I know when things are tough and I feel like I lost control I try that much harder to control those things I do have power over and in those times I return to my old habits. Sometimes it is easier to try and "complete" a collection than it is to deal with a major life issue.
I will be happy when (fill in the blank)
I thought that when I got out of debt I would finally find that contentment I sought after. Granted life is so much better without that hanging over me but it wasn't like my life had been perfect after I paid off my last bill; life will always bring issues and problems we never would have anticipated. So now I have two chronic illnesses and I have to ask myself "would I be happier" if I didn't have to deal with these problems? It would be nice to not have to deal with it but if I didn't have that to deal with there would be something else that would come along to replace it.
So if there will always be problems in life how can someone be content? Contentment is a "state of mind" and so you change the statement "I will be happy when (fill in the blank)" to "I won't be any more content than I am right now if I had (fill in the blank)". Trying to think this way has really helped me and if there is something I want to buy I have to think if it is some compulsion that I am using as a distraction or if it is something I do want. I still buy things but I am much more thoughtful about what I buy most of the time.
As for the problems we face sometimes it helps to see the positives in those bad situations. For example I may have diabetes but the issue of my blood sugar being too high has forced me to have to eat better and get exercise. Those are two things I have been wanting to do and because I am eating better and going on walks I feel so much better. Now not all the bad stuff in life can be viewed in a positive light but I can look back on many of the "bad" things that have happened and I can see the positive direction my life has gone because of what I learned in those dark moments.
Looking beyond yourself can help you be more content
If we are helping others we will be much more happier than helping ourselves. It's funny how that works but I know that I feel so much better when I am able to give to someone else than when I get something for myself. Also knowing there is a God and looking to Him helps. Knowing that there is something else more powerful than myself that is ultimately in control of the universe is comforting. If we look to God and try to be more like what He wants us to be as a result we will be more content. Here is a verse from the bible written by the apostle Paul that I think sums this up pretty well:
Philippians 4:10-13 (New International Version)
10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Where I want to be someday is what he states in verse 12 "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation".
Whether things are going well for me or I am having a really bad week, I hope that I can learn how to be content despite my circumstances.