After last week's message about connection, someone reached out with a powerful insight that is connected (ha!) to the thought I have for this week. They shared that making a connection with someone else will only go as far as the other person's receptivity to the connection. This highlights the fact that while we may have the best of intentions, often there is so much that is beyond our control we have to continue to learn to how to adapt and respond to all of that "out-of-control-ness." This is where today's topic of contentment comes to play.
It seems like we hear a lot about trying to be happy or working toward happiness as a goal or objective for life, but I think that pales in comparison to learning to be content. Here's how I see the difference: happiness usually seems to be connected to external circumstances. If I have a good job, a place to live, and some good relationships, then I can be happy. Or if the right political party is in office and making the best choices, then we can collectively be happy. It's almost like a formula - If such and such happens, then happiness will result, but it almost always seems to be related to some measurement of external circumstances that determines whether or not happiness will show up.
In contrast, I believe contentment is about learning to live from a place of internal settledness that isn't dependent on external circumstances. It's about learning to find a space of internal peace and gratitude that provides a place of anchoring, even when the circumstances of life don't go "my way." I have a friend who I met through the Center for Mind & Body Medicine training we participated in here in our community, Dr. Tanmeet Sethi, who wrote a book about this (Joy is My Justice). Joy is the language she uses to explain what I mean here by contentment, and she makes the claim (and I agree!) that everyone has the right and the ability to claim their joy/contentment in life.*
Now you might be thinking, this is a great idea, but what does it look like to practically take steps toward finding that kind of contentment? Well, this brings us back to the feedback from last week's message. I believe the first step in moving into the inner space of contentment is by getting very clear with myself about what I can control and what I can't control. The simple act of asking the question, "Is this something I can control?" can be a powerful starting point.
For example, let's say I am confronted with a person who is upset and expressing their frustration toward me. If I can be clear that I can't control their frustration but I can control how I respond to their frustration, that simple process of clarification can help me to settle down internally a little bit. Another example of how I use this is by saying to myself (I try and mostly say this internally!), "that's not mine to carry." This is particularly helpful if someone is making decisions I don't agree with and I am feeling frustrated by their "bad" choices. The truth is, their choices aren't mine to carry, which helps me settle down internally a little bit.
As you think about the circumstances of your life right now, are there some places you are not experiencing contentment? How could being honest about what you can control and what you can't control help you take a step toward that internal contentment? Where might it be helpful to think, "That's not mine to carry" and how might that help you settle down internally a little bit?
Here's to not settling for happiness, but reaching toward contentment!
*Dr. Sethi makes the case that claiming our joy is actually a way in which we can practice and live out our justice, and I would highly recommend her book! Joy Is My Justice: Reclaim What is Yours, Copyright 2023 by Tanmeet Sethi, MD and available at your favorite book retailer.
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