September 16, 2012

In Search of Contentment - Part 1

In this series, I am reflecting on the subject of finding contentment.  What does contentment do with “The Path to Frugality?”  Plenty.  One example is that if you aren’t content, you are more apt to spend money in order to bring yourself a feeling of contentment or happiness. 

I struggle with being content and I know that if I could just feel contentment with my life, I would be at peace with many things in my life and be happier.   It is interesting that the majority of people are not content and struggle or search for contentment.  Why is this?  Is it because we are constantly shown in the media that we need to have “this or that” to be happy?

Over the next several days I want to focus on contentment.  I am working my way through a period in my life when I realize my life would be happier and easier if I would learn to be content.  Yes I believe that contentment is learned and in order to feel contentment we need to make a conscious effort to change our thoughts and quit sabotaging how we feel about ourselves and our lives. 

So, tonight I want to bring up the number 1 obstacle I have with finding contentment.

1.  Quit tying contentment to future events.

I will be content when the kids go to elementary school, when the kids graduate from school, when we make more money, when we have a newer house, when Christmas is over, when we are debt free, when we get a new car, when we pay the car off, when we remodel the kitchen, when I lose 10 lbs., when, when, when. . .  The list can go on and on until you are in your retirement years and look back and see a lot of years of waiting for time to pass.  Ugh.

Why do I do this?  Why do I always have a carrot of “mirages of contentment” dangling in front of me all the time?  I have always had “goals” of things that I want to accomplish but I have grown accustomed to delaying happiness or contentment until that goal is met or an event happens.  I know that I am not alone in this. 

I remember specifically when we purchased the home that we are living in now and how I could hardly wait for May 27, 1997 when we would close on the house and we would be homeowners.  I would finally have my house and no one could dictate to me whether I have a dog or cat, or what color I could paint the walls or anything else that a landlord might dictate.  I felt content for awhile but then the reality of owning an old house sets in along with the expenses and the expectations for remodeling an old house.  

It never used to be this way.  I can vividly remember 26 years ago when our oldest son was 1 and I was able to quit my job and be home with him.  In order to do this I babysat 1 other child for money for our food budget.  I remember how simple our lives were back then and how happy I was.  We faced many financial challenges during those years, but I never lost sight of one thing and that I was living my dream of being a stay at home mom, at least for a few years.  

Three years ago I again achieved a dream of being a stay at home wife.  It was and continues to be fulfilling but along the way I have lost much of the contentment I felt that first morning I woke up to my new stay at home life.  What has happened?  How did my thinking change about contentment?   

There is not one “aha” moment that I can trace back to, but somewhere I made an unconscious decision that in order to be content, my life needed to be perfect.  Everyone has their own idea of what perfectionism means to them.  My idea of perfection is different from everyone else’s but somewhere in the past 15 years I have become a believer in I can only be happy and content when “______” (fill in the blank).

It was this summer that I realized that I was very unhappy with myself and my life.  I couldn’t immediately come up with a reason for feeling unhappy.  I spent a couple of days spending some time relaxing and taking a break from my normal responsibilities to reflect.  While I was sitting on my back porch I was reviewing my calendar and penciled off some dates of activities and family events.   And then it happened.  I started thinking “I will be so happy when March comes.”  We have a special event to plan and I am looking forward to it.  Then I looked to October and saw that I had an activity at church to plan and although I liked the activity, I hated the planning part.  Boy I will be glad when that is over.  But I went one step further.  If I can just get through to the end of October, I will be so much happier. 

This is what I said to myself and it was that statement that made me realize that I had a problem:  wrong thinking.  I had been living my life not enjoying every day of it, but putting my enjoyment or contentment on hold until something specific happened in the future.  I was plodding along looking forward to an event that would be fun or looking forward to something being over.  

I made a vow at that point that I had to change the way I thought about my life.  I had to stop what I was thinking and make changes so I could enjoy every day of my life. Change does not come easy for me and I knew this was going to be hard.  Like a bad habit, wrong thinking that has gone on for years will take time to change.   Changing perspective and modifying the way I think would be the only way that I could start (yes, it is a beginning) to bring contentment into my life.  It takes 21 days to change a bad habit.  I figured that I am a slow learner so it would take at least 30 days for me, but if it brought happiness, peace and contentment I was more than willing to put in the effort.

Every time I start to think “I’ll be content when”, I say to myself – “that is a lie.  You can be content now.  It is your choice.”  I know it sounds silly, almost like something from the old Oprah Shows, but if I am alone I actually say this out loud.  I say it a couple of times if I need to. 

It is taking more than 30 days but it is working.  Every time I say that phrase, I am acknowledging that contentment is available to me now if I want it and I don’t have to wait.  I can be content with my life if I really want to be contented.  The choice is mine.

If you struggle with this, you have to make a conscious choice to change the way you think.  Delaying contentment or putting it off until something happens means that it will never happen.  You will never, never be satisfied with your life and it will only make you sad and disappointed.  It is no way to live your life. 

Repeat after me “I can be content now.  It is my choice.”  Repeat.  “I can be content now.  It is my choice.” 

If I can take steps to change, you can take steps to change. 

Next post:  2.  Quit tying contentment to money.


Melissa said...

This is a really great post! I agree with everything you say in it. This was a lesson I have learned alot over the course of this year. Unfortunately I see this trend happening with one of our daughters. She couldn't wait until she turned 18 and thought her life would dramatically change and now is discontent because that has not happened.

Anyway, I am looking forward to reading the rest of your series on this!

Dani said...

I find that contentment comes to me when I can control things - when I have the power over my actions without having to rely on someone else. For instance, we are currently building our final home. My husband is doing the electrics. If he would just finish the conduit work, then the builders could complete the plaster work. If they finish the plaster work, we are one step closer to moving into our home.

When he couldn't motivate himself to get the job done yesterday I got myself all in a tizz because I couldn't do it myself. Guess you could say frustration causes discontent... And frustration is caused through lack of patience?

LOL I therefore need to learn patience

Juhli said...

You are so right about how our thoughts affect how we feel and how we interpret what is happening. Great mantra you have for yourself. I look forward to the next post on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Oh I love this post! I understand completely. At times I catch myself wanting certain events to just be over. It's sad because I know that these events should be looked upon as gifts. They're times spent being with family and friends - things that are the most valuable to me, yet... more often than not I feel it's too much work and more of an obligation. I know it's terrible to think this way and I too am working on it. The good thing is that we recognize this negative thought pattern and we want to change it. We're on the right path!

L.E. said...

I really enjoyed this series of posts -- you are so right! I think I may come back and re-read this one from time to time.

Also, I see on your blog list a blog called Frugal Makes Cents (written by Precious). I used to read that blog also and thought she had taken it down as I can't access there a new web address for it?

Thanks for the inspiration!

Paula said...

Boy does this resonate. And no wonder. We live in a capitalistic society where some peoples' very lucrative careers are based on making us feel that we have to have this or that to be content.

My father once said that he thought TV had made many people discontent by showing them things they wouldn't even have known about without it.

My mother had a menial job and always just endured until the weekend. I heard her tell a friend that wishing for the weekend was the same as wishing a lot of your life away.

Feeling as you do seems to be a common problem. I am guilty sometimes, too. Even dreading cleaning day and waiting for the day AFTER cleaning day. I'll catch myself and remind myself that I should be grateful that I have a house and that I'm still able to clean it. I try to remind myself to stop and live in the moment and enjoy the whole journey instead of always straining toward the destination, but is is hard.