It was probably a morning like this when Richard Rodgers sat down at the piano and wrote the song ,“My Favorite Things.” A morning where you wake up and can touch gratitude, inhale goodness and taste it’s sweetness on the tip of your tongue.
A screen door creaks in the summer heat, fresh cream clings to the side of the coffee mug…a cat on the lap, a dog warming my feet, the morning sun filtered by ash and oak spotlighting the field of clover. Impatient baby finches shaking with fluffy excitement at the prospect of food, the fragrance of new raindrops and sweet mock orange, the hope of gooseberry pie. I recognize these sensations are for me, peace and security: reflective of times when, for a moment, all seems right with the world. I catch myself taking a deep breath and releasing a long sigh…In one word: contentment.
I have been thinking about contentment for some time and noticed while I enjoy being contented, feelings of guilt can be an accompanying force. There is a nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me of misinformation I learned as a child: when I experience contentment I have probably stopped working and gotten lazy. While this response is part of my Enneagram type and early training, it is also a mantra we experience in our culture every day. It also gets in the way of taking good care of ourselves.
The cultural well from which we drink offers us mixed messages about contentment. Everything from social media to commercials to conversations at the proverbial water cooler screams the mantra: “striving leads to contentment, so don’t stop striving.” Culture defines contentment (among other things) as having a certain amount of money, an important job, and successful children. While there is not a particular dollar figure or success bar for contentment, we often experience it is as more than what we currently have. The success of our children becomes valued in GPA, dance recital results or starting salary out of college, instead of their happiness quotient.
Hard work and striving have given us many good things, so much so we have created a culture where we work hard, and strive for more in order to be content. Before we arrive at what we experience as contentment, we are tempted into the next level so that we can be even more content. “Just one more hour of work, one more mile to walk, one more patient to see…” We hear messaging about contentment: it is something to strive for, but hard to obtain because the finish line keeps moving.
Instead, what if contentment could be found in the moment? What are you doing right now? Can you find contentment in this moment? What it contentment comes in moments of sitting under a tree listening to the wind blow through the leaves? Pulling a weed from the tomato patch…watching the clouds move across the sky…the sun on the horizon… dangling toes off a dock touching the cool lake water…
Contentment arrives, not (only) in crossing a finish line but also in the ability to stop the “doing” and embrace the “being” within the present moment. The pre-dawn birdsong, the worm moving across the sidewalk after a rain, the giggle of a baby, the taste of a fresh peach…these are invitations to contentment available to us without striving, but by paying attention.
To stop striving may feel like an impossible feat at the moment. It isn’t an either/or choice. You don’t have to give up one for the other. Within your day add contentment by paying attention. Drink in the goodness. As you move through this beautiful world, stop and look around you. Inhale what you see. Notice the clouds, the stillness of the air, the amazing color of a bloom or the tiny baby toad jumping out of your path. Take time to stop what you are doing, look around you, listen to what is going on around you and inside of you. Learn to notice and love the bits of contentment scattered throughout your day. Because as we weave together these moments, we create a contented life.