personal manifesto: contentment

disciplines - C

Practice and master the art of contentment

We raised our family of four children with little money. Until our youngest child went to school we had no guaranteed salary cheque, and what we did get put us in the lowest income bracket. We had made conscious choices to live simply and frugally. We were immensely happy and for many years felt we lacked for nothing. We practiced the discipline of contentment.

It wasn’t just about money. We chose to savour the seasons; when we had babies, when we had toddlers, kids and when we had teenagers. Without mastering contentment, seeking change is like chasing the wind. Getting unstuck adds colour and stimulus, it expands our appreciation of life and the world in which we live. Contentment facilitates peace.

A commitment to ‘live in the moment’ can sound like a foolish short term approach to life. And wrongly applied that is true. Living in the moment does not mean that every time I see a piece of caramel slice in the café cabinet, I am committed to engaging! It could also imply that I throw caution to the wind in regard to long term financial planning and save nothing for the so-called rainy day or old age, whenever that is supposed to begin. In an ambitious world, where growing your audience is king and the law of the jungle seems to define corporate life, a commitment to contentment can be perceived as weakness. Not so.

A life well-lived is a contented life. The discipline of contentment is the daily commitment to open my eyes to the good and the beautiful on offer now. This is not in conflict with driving ambitions in the arenas of pleasure, betterness and meaning. It is in conflict with an attitude that is so focussed on the fantasy of a desirable alternative, that I am robbed of the opportunities for deep satisfaction and appreciation today. It is about doing my best with what is on my do-list right now, not about an illusion of another do-list.

A contented life also recognises the seasons of life. The freedom (or lack thereof) I have when, for example, there were small children in the home, is fundamentally different than retirement. It feels normal to live for tomorrow, lusting after someone else’s lot in life, or the prospect of a more attractive future. The consistency of life means that if I live for tomorrow now, I will always live for tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes.

The wonderful thing about mastering contentment, is that I always have today. In fact, today is all I ever have. The discipline of contentment is about urging myself to be at my best today; to open my eyes and see the beauty I can engage to feed my desire for pleasure today; to take the opportunities to improve who I am, to become better at what I do today; to be alert to how I can put another little incremental dent in the universe by my actions and behaviour before I go to sleep tonight.

Questions that help me practice contentment

1. What is great about my life right now?

2. What else?

3. What else?

4. How will I enhance my active appreciation of these things?