What does it mean to be contented? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
: the quality or state of being contented
: feeling or showing satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation
Sometimes I think that being content is like giving up. For example, if you have a relationship that isn’t fulfilling, but you’ve decided that it’s good enough. Or, perhaps you’re being told that you should “count your blessings” and be content with what you have. I really think this is bullshit and that a person thinking these things has given up a part of themselves. Especially when it comes to relationships, I think we’ve all been programmed to think that once we’ve indicated that we are connected to another person in an intimate way, we need to find all our fulfillment in them. The reality of this is that no one can be everything to another person. We each have our own interests and passions that can certainly overlap with another’s, but why give up on the rest? What happens when you meet that other person who is a perfect fit for some or all of the rest of what you are passionate about? Why does anyone need to give up “the rest” out of some ideal that it would be wrong or immoral to connect with another person who can fulfill that for us?
It’s important to indicate that just because you are not finding complete fulfillment in another, doesn’t mean that there is anything “wrong” with that person or that they are “bad” in some way. I’ve personally been married for almost 25 years to someone I consider to be my best friend in this lifetime. However, for many years I have had a driving force telling me that I needed to expand on my experiences with relationships with others. This doesn’t mean that my wife is “not enough” or that there is something wrong with her in any way. I just simply means that I want to experience more things with other people. You might be thinking that this is just a “mid-life crisis”, but it isn’t because I’ve always known this about myself, I was just not brave enough to express it until this past year. Once you are married you are fit into a specific role that has specific expectations by society. I thought there was something wrong with me and that I was somehow faulty or not good enough. It has been through my process of increasing my awareness that I’ve discovered that I don’t have to be stuck in a role that I had nothing to do with creating. I also discovered that by communicating my desires and intent to her, that we can and are, creating a new way of being together. This is not just being content, but what I call “Active Contentment”. Active Contentment requires a person to take responsibility for all aspects of their life and to Actively work on being Content! This is a process of evaluating my life repeatedly in who I am and what I desire to experience, then make a decision and a plan of Action that will adjust things so it moves me toward that goal. This process is ongoing and has no end. After all, it’s actually pretty awesome to take control of my life in an active and pro-active way! The other benefit of what we are doing with our relationship, is that we are both growing more independent, grounded in who we are, and focused on what really matters in our relationship. This concept has been very confusing for some that have been witnessing our changes, and I think the most confusing part for them is that we aren’t acting in the way they would “expect” two married people who no longer live together should act. Society most definitely wants to neatly categorize our actions and to set expectations on the outcomes, but at every turn we are causing the expectations to collapse and forcing people to re-evaluate their perception of how a relationship can be.
Another area to consider is what you do for work, whether it is a job or maybe a business you are running. You’ve made a contract or arrangement with the employer or your employees to the work or service you provide, but if you aren’t happy with what you are doing, why not change? I can certainly understand this from both perspectives as I’ve been an employer and an employee. I have experienced stepping into an agreement that I will do something and then perhaps after a time I’ve find that it just isn’t working. Then what I’ve done in the past is to start to feel guilty about changing, that I will somehow be letting “them” down if I leave my job or have to close the business. In my last business I wasn’t getting enough cash flow to support the overhead expenses of rent and payroll so instead of shutting it down at that point, I cashed out one of my retirement accounts (at a penalty of course plus taxes) in order to fund the business and pay my employees. The only thing this did was postpone the inevitable and drain me of a savings I’d been building up for over 20 years. Out of a perceived “responsibility” to others, I’m the one who ultimately suffered. I suffered the guilt, the anxiety and the loss of money for nothing. I also see this all the time with people who have jobs that they really don’t like at all. Rather than doing something about it, they stay, feel miserable and sometimes complain to everyone who will listen about the job and the employer. In the end, nothing usually gets solved from the situation, the person is unfulfilled and everyone around them is robbed of having a positive relationship with that person.
For me, I’ve been doing the same kind of work for over 20 years, but never fulfilled with what I’m doing. This has caused me to move around in my jobs hoping the next place will be the one to fulfill that need and during this time I would “suffer” this discontentment by having anxieties and depression about feeling lost in my life and career. I would always have a reason to seek the greener grass to motivate me to find a new job or start a business. I never spent the time to really understand what was at the core of my discontent and therefore kept re-creating the same situation over and over hoping for a different result (therefore insanity was a reality for me). Through Active Contentment I was able to discover that the root of my issues around my jobs was in my own lack of self esteem and self love. I never felt that I ever measured up to my expectations nor the perceived expectations of others. My “assumptions” said that others found me lacking and that I wasn’t really capable of performing at the level which is really needed for this position or as this kind of employer. However, the overwhelming responses I’ve always received from reviews and customers, was that I am an exceptional person.
I had a recent experience where I was talking with a former customer of mine about the business I had closed. I was indicating to them that I had found someone locally to take on my customer’s needs and that they were very competent and capable of handling the same services I had provided. The customer looked at me and said that I didn’t get it; that it was Me that people wanted to have as a service provider, not just someone that would provide them with a “service”. I was stunned by this as I had never considered what I was doing or who I was as exceptional or irreplaceable. This gave me a whole new perspective on myself that was at the beginnings of my discovery of a positive self worth.
Active Contentment means that you have responsibility, but it also means that you have the freedom to choose how you are going to feel content. For me in my job, I’ve shifted into an active contentment about what I do. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on changing what I do for a living at some point, but it does mean that I’m a lot happier in the meantime. I am choosing to love myself, to see the great things that I do and am able to do, to admit freely of things I don’t understand and to seek help without embarrassment or self deprecation. I am choosing to leverage my employment to prepare my life in a way that will enable to me step away from what I’m doing now, to a new career or business. I am choosing to be excited and methodical without being unrealistic. I am choosing to discover what it is about another person that intrigues me or attracts me to them without feeling like I’m betraying someone else or myself. I am choosing to be content but not to give up or settle.
What can you do in your life to be content without giving up or settling?