Monday, September 23, 2013

The art of contentment

A recurring conversation with an old contact used to go like this:

"I should feel happy. My life looks so good on the outside -- I have an amazing job, I get to travel all over the country, I am doing what I always wanted to do, I have a nice home, I'm healthy, no one I love has died, I'm in a relationship with my best friend, I'm in good shape financially. Why don't I feel great?" It was disturbing to recognize how much was going well and yet how elusive good feelings about it all were.

I think contentment is wanting what you have. The person above had all those great things but wanted something more. Something felt missing.

I don't know how to *make* yourself content if you're not -- it doesn't seem like you can just will yourself to feel good (and you shouldn't even try if it's due to chemical imbalances, that's like trying to regulate your diabetes through willpower alone and will land you in the hospital if not the grave).

I always like to use the diabetes example because for some reason, people don't prioritize their emotional health the way they do their physical. Maybe it's because the consequences of not paying attention to your health can be much more dire but you can slog along unhappily indefinitely. Or maybe it's because results are unclear -- do 100 situps a day for 100 days and your efforts will be clearly visible but how to know what will make you *feel* better? Talking it out with a counselor? Meditating? Medicine? Hard to know and if you're already feeling crummy, it can be exhausting (and even disheartening) to try.

James Altucher says every day you should try to meet 4 basic needs: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Physically, eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Get some mental stimulation: read, talk, write, think. Have an emotional connection (to people, parakeets, whatever). And spiritually, well, for some people this involves a religious practice but doesn't have to. (Maybe religion is popular simply because this is so hard to define individually.) I think it can even be a sense of philosophy and personal conduct like, say, wanting to be a decent person and respect the planet or whatever values fit.

Last year at this time, I was still not completely content. I was still outward-seeking, wanting to build my life to regain some footing after a big life shakeup. This was so central to me that I established a whole outlet to write about it (this blog) and thought finding love would be the answer. I even fell in love, and then agonized that it wasn't the complete scenario I'd envisioned: the objet d'amour wasn't in the same place. I turned inward, wondering what could I do for them to like me more? Silly girl. I'm embarrassed to even admit I wondered such things, but it's probably very human. We all wonder what could influence fate in our favor.

But this year, something has shifted. I don't feel that longing. Nothing has changed, really, and yet everything is different. I still adore mon objet. I'm still striving for inner & outer growth and understanding. But I finally want what I have.

1 comment:

  1. I think it goes beyond that.
    Contentment (for me) is being comfortable with who you are, even as you try to make changes to make yourself better.