“I have learned to be content in every situation.” – The Apostle Paul
“I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have also learnt from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions and not about our circumstances.” – Martha Washington
When I was in my counted cross-stitch phase (actually Phase 1), many years ago, I did a cross-stitch on the St. Paul quote about contentment. I would tell people that learning to be content is a goal, not a reality. I still believe that contentment is not that easy to achieve.
What is Contentment?
Contentment is the ability to consider your circumstances and be okay with them. That doesn’t mean you must be wildly happy or joyous, although joy is always preferable. Contentment just means that you can live with where you are.
But contentment can be a trap. We as human beings can get used to just about anything. Here’s an example – I talked to my next-door neighbor the other day and she said she has lived without kitchen cabinets and counters for almost a year. They had to tear them out because of mold problems, and they have not been able to replace them yet. She has a table she works from, and she has all the appliances, but no counters or cupboards. I expressed my horror, and she said, “no big deal.”
She has gotten used to the situation, adapted her thoughts to the less-than-ideal kitchen arrangement, and gone on with her life. We all do that. We live in terrible marriages, with crazy relatives (they are all crazy and we are the sane ones, of course), and belligerent children.
Have you managed to be content with life?
It’s all about our attitude, as Martha Washington said. Abraham Lincoln said,
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.
My theory is that we can handle one major disruption (no kitchen), and maybe two, but that we must have something positive to offset it (maybe a happy marriage), to offset it.
I’m not saying contentment is an algebra equation, with two parts happiness balancing two parts unhappiness. But I am saying that contentment can be attained pretty easily. Too easily. Contentment can be a trap.
Enter the Boiled Frog
Sometimes we accept contentment too easily. The story about the boiled frog goes like this:
Put a frog in a pan of cold water, and put the lid on the pan so he can’t jump out. This works best with a glass lid so you can see what happens to the frog. Then turn on the heat, low. Keep turning up the heat. After some time, the frog, still contentedly sitting on the bottom of the pan, will be dead. Boiled frog.
We need some joy in our lives. While I’m a big fan of balance, balance can be a trap too. Every so often we must jump out of the pan and run in the grass and kick up our heels and experience the heights of human behavior. And we sometimes need to get angry, to say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
Be content. Contentment is good. But don’t let contentment lull into a false sense of security. Get happy. Get angry.
Contentment in your work life:
Are you still happy to be going to work? Can you say you are just content, or are you really excited to be doing the work you love? I remember when I started teaching college students, I thought, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this! It’s so much fun!” After a while, though, I realized I was getting bored with it, and tired of the politics. Have you found the balance between contentment with your work and contentment at home?
Contentment in your personal life:
Are you content with your circumstances? If so, celebrate. Many people are not. If not, is there something you can do to make a change, before you are boiled and don’t know it?
Contentment is a Goal, a Process.
Meditating on your attitude and becoming more content with where you are can bring benefits to your life. Just be aware of the dangers of contentment, and if the water starts getting too warm, consider jumping.