Why is contentment so elusive?
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ― Lao Tzu
What does it mean to be content? According to Goggle, the definition is “in a state of peaceful happiness.” That sounds wonderful, but right now in America we are experiencing growing rates of addiction, debt and obesity. The trends are clear- we as a society are not content with what we have. We are looking for something to fill a void and we are finding that the drugs, material objects and food just aren’t enough to leave us feeling content.
As I was working with a client the other week, he said to me that he needs to keep himself busy with things because he is afraid of what might happen when he doesn’t have anything to do and would have time to stop and think about his life. He used all kinds of distracting activities to avoid having time to be relaxed and quiet with himself. It became clear throughout our sessions that he had a real fear of facing some of the things that he did in his past. In contrast I have other clients that seem to completely check out to almost all feelings. They report sleeping all day and feeling like they are almost in a vegetative state to avoid having to face their past. When we are feeling anxiety we have patterned ways of responding. In Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Connection, she explains that we either go into over-functioning or under-functioning mode. We either become the rescuer and take over or we become irresponsible and fragile. Both are attempts to avoid looking within and dealing with the anxiety. While we tend to say that the over-functioners are coping better, in reality they are not. Neither are content with their lives and both are equally destructive if they continue those behaviors for the long term. So what does it take to become content- to reach that state of peaceful happiness? It takes the courage to go within. It takes self-compassion. It takes facing the truth about who we are as a person and not who we think we should be. We are human beings, yet very few of us take time to be. We are more often human doings or human avoidings. So take some time to just be. The more time we allow ourselves to be with ourselves the closer we get to becoming content. The key to contentment is that it doesn’t come from anything outside…we already have it within when we truly become a human BEing.
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