At a young age, I learned what I thought was the secret to contentment.
This one little trick would make everyone love me, allow me to be successful in every way, and perhaps I would even like myself.
All I had to do was be perfect. All I asked was perfection of myself and everyone else around me. Why was it too much to ask? As it turns out, it didn’t work.
I remember believing that the weight of the world was on my shoulders. If only I corrected everyone who was wrong. They could then see their imperfection and move towards contentment.
I was blessed with an uncanny ability to drive. It led me to race stock cars starting before I was old enough to have my license. Because I was so talented in this field, it was especially important for me to “enlighten” everyone else so they could share in my wisdom.
I would drive down the road yelling at everyone that didn’t signal, tailgating everyone not following the national unspoken rule of five to seven miles over the speed limit. If only everyone was as wise and helpful as the teenage me, the world would be a better place.
Turns out perfection was not quite attainable and that other folks didn’t take too kindly to my efforts to get them there. Also, I hated myself for not reaching perfection.
So I went in search for an actual secret to contentment. There is one that doesn’t leave you hating yourself and everyone around you.
I have found this secret in a few different places.
One is the Bible. Love it or hate it, it has been around for thousands of years and is useful for more than its ability to stir up angry religious folks and piss people off with “out of context” statements. It has some pretty brilliant ideas—often missed by the church (but that’s another blog).
The fourth chapter of Philippians was written by Paul who is kind of a big deal. He talks about contentment in every situation in verses 11 and 12. It means a lot coming from a dude that sang praises after being beaten and wrongfully imprisoned.
Philippians 4:6 introduces this crazy idea—”don’t worry!”
Just turn off your worry switch and you’re good to go. Check!
Okay maybe it’s not that simple—but a good reminder.
Worry does nothing good for us. I have been to the doctor for a lot of symptoms that just went away when I stopped worrying all the time.
In college, I spoke with a friend when I was concerned that a girlfriend was going to cheat on me. He said, “Well either she will or she won’t, but you worrying about it won’t change her decision.” Did she pursue other men? Yes. One of my best friends from college was quite surprised when he found out that I was dating the girl he had been cuddling. My worry did not solve the problem though.
More often than not, worry has us run through terrible situations in our minds that we never get to experience.
In this particular situation with my ex, worrying made it worse because I became crazy with worry—and people don’t like to date “crazy.”
I have mourned the loss of, planned funeral details for, and developed a plan for life without people that are still alive and well today. That was a complete waste of emotion and heartache.
Verses eight and nine in Paul’s letter continue by suggesting we think about things that essentially are awesome.
This is an idea I found reiterated in an amazing book called You Are a Bad*ss. I love it when biblical principles are found in books with swear words in the title. It makes me think that God’s direction and secular common-sense based in life experience can go hand-in-hand.
The idea is that if we think about positivity, then we will attract positivity. If we are always thinking about the good things that happen our lives will be so much happier, more productive, and positive. The Bible says the same thing—think about such things and be thankful.
This is all about mindset. If our eyes are always on what we don’t have, what we deserve, or on what has pissed us off for that day, we will be upset.
I suggest we stop worrying about things we can’t control, stop keeping our eyes on what isn’t perfect. Be thankful for what you have and the ways in which your life is fantastic.
There are some wise folks you may have heard of that tend to agree with this notion:
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu
“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” ~ Socrates
Here are some action steps:
- Don’t worry.
- Think about all that is awesome.
Okay—it’s never that simple.
This will take intention and direction.
For those who believe in the Bible, take heart from Philippians 4:13. It states that we, “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.” Turns out that verse isn’t about football. Who knew?
We all can make changes by setting triggers. Certain people and situations bring up negativity for us. In those moments, our brains need to be stimulated to do something different than what they would normally do.
Here are some ideas:
1. Have calendar events pop up at especially stressful points in your day to bring your mind back to a positive state.
2. Have set times each day that it becomes your routine to intentionally think about everything that is great in your life. We all have good stuff even at our worst times.
3. Have people around you that can call you out when you’re not being positive, or when you’re letting bad things bring you down.
How may we apply this to relationships?
If you’re not happy—ain’t nobody happy. Realistically if you are not content you will treat others poorly. That doesn’t work well in relationships.
You will also be like my teenage self, in that no one will ever be “good enough” for you. You will only see their flaws and spend most of your time trying to hide your own.
I heard this quote on the TV show Mom:
“If everyone around you is an a*shole—you’re the a*shole.”
If everyone is being mean to you, either you are being mean, or you are only seeing the negativity in others.
In all areas of life, try and focus on what is awesome and not what is missing. Love people for who they are and be focused on their positive attributes. Stop worrying about things you can’t control. Your worry usually brings out your nasty side.
Be focused on your attitude. If you’re frustrated often—you’re probably frustrating others.
Everybody wants contentment, but like many great things in life, including happy relationships, it takes work!
Check out our resources page to see how we can help you in your journey. Life is too short to miss the greatness and it’s way too long to be miserable.
We like to tell our children every night, “In all situations choose joy.”
Author: Bryan Baker
Editor: Lieselle Davidson