Contentment

Laundry is what bwings us togevah today… because the load I ran yesterday finally dried after two cycles, I removed it from the dryer this morning intending to fold it after work, and it still sits on my floor at this moment because I folded one pair of pants and lost interest. And that’s kind of the same attitude I’ve had toward writing here lately. I sit down, brainstorm for a little bit, do some research, and get distracted, or actually start writing something and lose steam after a paragraph. I just haven’t felt like my creative juices were flowing or that anyone wanted to read anything I might write, so what’s the point?

Honestly, I haven’t been feeling great about myself lately. I’m not feeling terrible about myself, just not really seeing many good qualities and kind of just maintaining life, if that makes sense. Going to work, coming home, eating, sleeping, seeing friends and family, enjoying things for sure, but feeling a little like I’m going through the motions. And I’ve been believing a lot of lies that definitely feed into that. Lies like that I’m not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not thin enough, smart enough, competitive enough, organized enough…. wow, listing things like that is a rabbit hole and not an exercise I want to continue at this moment. Even though I know in my head that I am good enough, I am a great friend, I’m a strong, independent woman, I deserve love, etc., as you can probably relate, my heart-brain doesn’t really believe what my brain-brain knows to be true. My understanding of reality gets clouded by my own perspective and all the biases that come with it.

From inside my own head and my own body, I can see all the imperfections that most people around me might never notice. I can feel all the weaknesses, all the cravings, all the times I fell short, all the ways I’m not as fill-in-the-blank-positive-trait as that other person. And that’s a human thing I’ll always have to deal with. But something I realized lately is if there’s something I’m believing about myself or saying to myself that I’d never say to another person, i.e. you look really fat in that outfit, that joke was really stupid, etc., I need to check myself and work on changing that habit. Because I think a lot of times what we believe to be true about who we are and what we’re capable of becomes true because of how we act on those beliefs. If I think I’m never going to be as smart as whoever because I believe I’m not motivated enough or I haven’t read enough books, my actions and priorities are going to reflect that, whether consciously or not.

A contributing factor to my negative self-talk, in addition to believing lies about who I am and what I’m capable of, is comparison. Comparison really is the thief of joy- you could have the most amazing week, accomplish something truly amazing, make another person smile, so many great things, but the moment you find someone to measure that thing against that you define as better than you, the feeling of triumph and happiness diminishes or disappears. And I really don’t think that’s the way we are made to experience the joy of accomplishment, or love, or community, or any form joy may take.  Yet I find myself comparing myself to others day in and day out. It’s not always as obvious as appearance or success. It can be subtle, and it can become a pattern that is hard to get out of, especially in a society where we are bombarded by other people’s lives. Think about it- at any given moment you can pull up Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat and be transported into someone else’s life for a moment, at least the part of life he or she decided was worth sharing that day. And most of us live life with people around us at work, school, home, the store, church, everywhere where there are hundreds of micro-interactions every day that give you a glimpse into how someone else spent their weekend, what someone else brought for lunch, anything. That’s a great thing about being social creatures, and these tons of tiny and huge interactions really fascinate me, but for those of us who internalize a lot and willingly or not compare ourselves to others, it can be such a drain on joy and keep us from being content with who we are and where we are.

What I’ve been thinking about a lot and working on a little lately is finding out what contentment means to me. Because I figured out that I had somehow built up some walls of lies around the concept of contentment. I thought being content meant I was lazy, accepting where I was forever, not driven, lacking direction, and maybe even prideful. As if being happy with where I am has to mean always being where I am. I see myself as someone who always wants to keep learning, who loves to soak up wisdom from others and from books and having new experiences. So when I would consider whether I was content with where I was, I thought that would mean I had stopped trying and didn’t have a direction to run in. And there’s a lot of layers to that- there are going to be times when I don’t feel like I have direction, or when I’m not seeking out new experiences, because 1. I get tired and 2. I’m an introvert who needs recharge time. And not having direction or seeking new experiences doesn’t mean I’m not moving forward or that I don’t have ambition. And there’s nothing wrong with staying right where I am for a while. In fact, I’m sure most of us have found that usually we move out of a season of life faster than we wanted to, and look back and wish we could live in that time again. But anyway, I somehow had made a connection, however winding and convoluted, between contentment and shame by having these lies in my head about being content meaning I wasn’t trying.

In reality, it actually takes effort to be truly content sometimes. Because contentment can be more than that blissful feeling after a good meal, or the warmth of a blanket on a chilly night. It can go a lot deeper than being happy with a test grade or a compliment at work. The contentment I want to pursue is a combination of satisfaction, comfort, joy, and being at ease. It doesn’t have to mean being over-the-moon about my situation and never moving on, but I do want it to mean I can look around on any given day and find a strand of what contributes to my overall well-being.  I want it to mean that I wake up believing in my abilities, I trust the plan ahead of me even if I can’t see around the next corner, and that I can look back on a day or week with pride in what I accomplished and more importantly who I was when I accomplished it, rather than shame at how I didn’t measure up or how everyone around me seems to be growing faster or moving ahead faster or whatever it is. Because yes, growth is beautiful and I know there is a lot ahead of me, exciting changes and lessons, but at the same time I’m in this moment for a reason. I’m living in this neighborhood for a reason, working at this company for a reason, in my specific role for a reason, building certain relationships for a reason, seeing some friendships fade for a reason, dealing with debt for a reason, single for a reason, missing family for a reason, developing interest for a reason, living in this exact spot for a reason. The reasons might become clear soon, or not for a long time, but the important thing to me is that the reasons matter. They matter to who made me so they matter to me. I don’t want to look at daily life as something to survive, another hour to get through before the weekend. I don’t think anyone wants that. But I’m finding it’s pretty hard to sit back and count the ways I am satisfied with my friendships, my job, and my free time when I’m constantly finding ways other people are doing it all better than me.

Luckily, in the midst of life racing by and throwing distractions at me, I find quiet moments where I can reflect and realize yes, I am happy with what I’m doing now even if it seems like my coworker is advancing faster than me. Yes, I am happy with who my friends are now even if I really miss some old ones. Yes, I am happy that I don’t have a boyfriend right now even though I sometimes really wish I wasn’t single. Yes, I do like living where I live and wearing what I wear even though I sometimes want more. I’ve found that to have these moments of contentment it really takes quiet for me. If I’m going to process and be able to hear what I truly want and where I feel called, that’s not likely to happen in my normal routine as it stands now. But if I can go take a break from the office at lunch, get some outdoors time on the weekends, get out of bed a little earlier to spend time learning something or even just easing into the day, I discover wonderful pockets of contentment. Wow, this coffee shop is amazingly relaxing despite it being crowded, because I can sit alone and journal without any social pressures. Wow, this country road is awesome because I’m not even thinking about checking my phone, I can’t believe I forgot how complex creation is, and I can listen to whatever music I want as loud as I want. Wow, this bowl of ice cream and watching a documentary are a gift because I’m changing up my routine. There is so much contentment to be had if we just take a moment to sit in it. It’s all well and good to tell someone life is going well, that you’re generally happy and things are fine, but how true are those statements if you don’t take time to enjoy it?

To bring this back around to working on the negative self-talk thing, something that helps me that I alluded to before is I think about how someone else would talk to me, or how I would want to talk to someone else. And what helps a lot in the contentment department and being happy with who I am, is thinking about what my mom would say to me. My mom, and luckily for me many parental figures in my life, is someone I can depend on and who helps me grow a healthy self-concept. Not only does she tell me she is proud of me, which feels great and every kid desires to hear from their parents, she treats me like a smart and capable adult, and she reminds me of specific examples of when I accomplished something great or showed strength or something. And also, something about my mom is she has been through more than her fair share of darkness. She has been hurt by loved ones and faced times where she felt like she failed, she’s been a single mom, she puts others ahead of herself without hesitation, and she’s come to this point of life with a more beautiful presence for all of that. Something I’m most amazed at is that she has a knack for letting things go that aren’t a big deal in the long run- she doesn’t hold grudges, she doesn’t dwell on what could have been as much as I do, and I see her as someone who strives to find her joy in life and doesn’t let others steal it from her.

For me, my mom is someone who knows enough about me, where I’ve come from, and what I’ve been through that she often knows the thought path I might be going down based on whatever circumstance I’m in. But because she’s not me, she can be objective in a mom-way that knows reality and my strengths and weaknesses but can see the situation more clearly than me and reassure me genuinely that things will be okay. I don’t know if I thank you enough for that, Mom. And that goes to all of my parental figures, because I’m learning more and more what a lucky kid I am to have people I can go to for advice, to bail me out of trouble, to reassure me when I feel broken, to listen to me vent for 20 minutes about whatever subject, and to love me unconditionally. It breaks my heart that so many people don’t have that in their lives when I’ve got more than the average number of parents who each has a unique perspective and personality and way of connecting with me. In the end, for me family and friends help me ground myself in who I am and who I want to be, and that helps me find my contentment. And hopefully you have that group of people or person in your life that reminds you who you are and makes you feel like you’re special and awesome just for being you. We all desire at the end of the day to be known perfectly and accepted for all of the good and bad stuff, and I think our loved ones are a tiny and wonderful glimpse of experiencing that on Earth.

So I encourage you to think about who and what bring you joy. What things really bring you comfort. And spend time reveling in that, because it’s pretty crazy that contentment  is accessible at almost any time with the right mindset, some patience, and intentional self-awareness, and  yet we usually don’t strive for it, because we’re busy thinking about something we don’t have.

Song of the week: The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, which I’m currently convinced is one of the greatest works of art of our time. This band brings me great comfort and reminds me of summer days when my parents cranked up the stereo.

Advice for the week: Heating pad by your feet on a chilly night because toes deserve contentment too.

Goal for the week: Get out of bed when I first wake up. Embrace more hours for me outside of work.

High five for the week (aka I’m going to start patting myself on the back a little in these posts): I ran a lot yesterday. It was on accident, and may or may not have been because I got lost, but hey, I still ran a lot for me and got to enjoy some amazing autumn sights. And as much as my legs hurt, the power I feel at having done that is way worth it.

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