On Sunday, as I was enjoying my fifth Mother’s Day morning and my first complete with breakfast in bed (pancakes, coffee, newspaper and 5-minute interval cuddles) I realised something.
For the first time in years, I genuinely feel content. Heart-fillingly, not over-the-top-dancing-down-the-street-joyfully, but level-headedly, almost-constantly content.
Years ago I was reading someone’s thoughts on happiness versus contentment (and I’m sure those thoughts were Rhonda’s from Down to Earth, but I can’t find the exact post) when something she said pulled me up short. Paraphrasing:
I don’t aim for happiness. Instead I aim for quiet, constant contentment. Things don’t need to be great, but if things are good most of the time, I’m content.
Initially I disagreed with this notion. Isn’t this idea of contentment just an underachieving version of happiness? Surely, shouldn’t we be looking for the best experiences available and striving for the highest levels of happiness? The most fulfilling satisfaction? But as I’ve continued down this path towards a simpler, slower life I now understand exactly where she was coming from.
Happiness is obviously not a bad thing, but it’s impossible to be constantly happy. Everyone has down days, everyone has problems. Everyone gets sick, argues with their partner, is disappointed by someone, has a rough day at work or wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. To expect any different is, frankly, naive.
But creating a life of constant, quiet contentment means you are in a strong place from which to weather the storms of disappointment, setback and upset and you are better prepared to experience those joyful moments when they do arrive. I’ve come to realise that aiming for contentment is essential in living slowly and simply.
For the first time since becoming a mum more than five years ago, I feel solid. I feel content. I feel like I am open to all that life has to offer, but no longer think I’m entitled to it. And honestly, it feels wonderful.
Last week I visited my psychiatrist for the first time in 18 months and, smiling, she said she could see a palpable difference in me. “You have confidence. You’re shining.” And, for once, I believed it.
Where has this contentment come from though? I started from a place of complete and utter despair. So what changes have I made in order to arrive at this place of (totally imperfect) contentment?
No surprises here. But decluttering, simplifying, streamlining and letting go of decades worth of stuff has left me free to pay attention to the more important areas of my life. Areas that, given a little more time and attention, have blossomed into the most vital parts of my world. For me that’s: kids, husband, health, writing, serving others.
Over time, simplifying life has lead me to understand my priorities and to actually live by them. Nothing feels better than laying in bed at night knowing I have put my energy into the things that matter most.
Accepting who I am, the phase of life I’m currently in, my weaknesses, my strengths and those of people around me, have all lead me to a much calmer headspace. I’m more compassionate towards others and myself, and that means I’m more relaxed in the face of troubles. Whatever it is, it will pass.
Finding the tiny joys
Taking time to look for the tiniest of beauties – dust motes, water droplets, kids laughter, smell of a campfire, warmth of a hug – has made me see how lucky I am.
The feeling of satisfaction that comes from a long day in the garden, an intense early-morning writing session, or working through a problem with one of the kids is really hard to beat.
The deathbed test
“Will this matter to me when I am on my deathbed?” It has a certain knack of putting things in perspective, don’t you think? When I find myself getting worked up over a stained shirt, a burned dinner, a sharp retort or a late appointment I ask myself what I will think of it on my deathbed. Typically, the answer is that I won’t.
Giving up on comparison
Contentment is so much easier to find when I stop looking at what others have and comparing it to myself. There is no way you can win when comparing your life to others, and doing so only gets in the way of your own contentment.
Even though this blog is only a very small space on the internet, I’ve been fortunate enough to have it help other people. Every week I get emails from readers asking for help or thanking me for something they have read here. And I can’t tell you how much that act of helping others has actually helped me. Too often we get wrapped up in our own problems and our own difficulties. But extending our hand to help someone else in need forces us to think about them instead. Realising I am not the centre of the universe has (ironically) helped me to find contentment. It’s not about me, and that’s OK.
What do you think? Is aiming for contentment enough?
To all the mothers, mums, mamas, mother-in-laws and mother-to-be’s: I hope you had a fabulous day on Sunday. (And to all the desperately-waiting-to-be-mums: I hope you got through Sunday with some warm hugs from those around you. It can be a difficult day.)
Also, I had the opportunity to chat with Elle Roberts of Seeking More Staying Grateful last week, where we discussed all manner of things related to living a better life. We spoke about contentment, how our homes affect the way we feel and the why comparisons steal our joy. Check it out below: