Last weekend, I spent the night with a dozen girlfriends in a 170-year-old farmhouse over a few glasses of wine and a roaring fire. I was in my happy place for sure. We cooked for each other, played games, rocked on the front porch at sunset, and talked late into the night.
And then I woke up the next day and met my husband and toddler at the pediatrician where she tested positive for Type A flu.
Y’all there are going to be mountaintops in life. And there is going to be junk. Our job is to navigate how to process them both without believing that they are mutually exclusive. Dr. Brene Brown calls that foreboding joy—assuming that because life is good for a moment, the bottom must be getting ready to drop out.
“Our actual experiences of joy—those intense feelings of deep spiritual connection and pleasure—seize us in a very vulnerable way,” Brown writes. “When something good happens, our immediate thought is that we’d better not let ourselves truly feel it, because if we really love something we could lose it. So we shut down our ability to completely enjoy so that we can also shut down our capacity for feeling loss.”
Now my girls’ weekend followed by a 2-year-old with the flu is hardly the kind of substantial loss others experience, but stick with me. My ability to be content in the moment is influenced by what I believe is coming down the road. So if, for instance, my husband and I go on a date and really connect and have fun, but I know that there is a stressful week of work or travel starting on Monday and choose to focus on that, I can’t fully experience contentment in the here and now and enjoy our date.
Friends, if you are about the business of reclaiming your contentment in 2019, you’ve got to do a few things with consistency:
Find Your People. Some people are going to remind you of what is going well in your life and some are going to welcome you to their primary place of residence in the muck and teach you how to sling mud. Choose those who build you up, not tear you down. And if you’ve found a person with whom you share all of your discontented thoughts (this is most likely a spouse, partner, or best friend) now’s the time to tell them you are on a journey towards contentment and you want them to hold you accountable for your negative thoughts.
Say Your Affirmations. In a research study by Carnegie Mellon University published in PLOS|ONE journal, it was found that “self-affirmation — the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values — can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving performance.” For me, affirmations are present-tense statements I say over myself each day that help me manage discontent. Some of my affirmations sound like this:
My day is not determined by the outcomes I produce, but by the seeds I plant.
Contentment and vision can co-exist and I have the ability to experience both.
March 7 will be better than February 7 and I have the power to make it so.
Affirmations can also look like praying and claiming Scripture such as, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13
Improve What You Can. The belief that we have the power to enact change is huge. You and I have a say in our own lives. We have a voice. We are resourceful. We can improve a situation, and in turn, improve ourselves. Just a few days ago, I picked up a quart of paint and got to work on a behemoth entertainment center that’s been looking outdated in my office for years. I don’t have the funds to build out a fireplace and built-in shelves in my living room right now, but I can buy $15 worth of paint and supplies and make a small improvement in my home that brings me joy.
Practice Gratitude. There is nothing more powerful than a gratitude practice for reclaiming contentment in our daily lives. This one is so simple and actionable. Get out your dollar-journal or the Notes app in your phone and write down a few things everyday for which you are thankful. The heat in your home. The paycheck that puts food on the table. The professor that teaches the class you’re taking in order to earn your degree. The ability to stay home with your children. Modern medicine. The sunlight streaming through your front hall. Whatever it is, a gratitude practice stands in direct opposition to discontentment and is the single most impactful way to change your mind about your circumstances.
Whatever it is that causes discontentment for you, big or small, I hope these practices offer relief, freedom, and joy. They have for me and I am grateful.