Gratitude is good, but contentment is better

Gratitude. It’s something we hear a lot about, especially this week. But, there is something that has a greater impact on our lives, like gratitude, but more richly. What is it?

It’s contentment.

You see, gratitude is something you do, an action. But contentment is a state of being. It’s not just an act; it’s who you become. What I mean is that we don’t say “practice contentment,” like you would say with “gratitude.” Rather, we say to “be content.” We do say “be grateful,” but that often means for something or a particular time, like “you should be grateful for this present, or this food, etc.” Whereas, “contentment” is what you are. And therein lies the magic.

With gratitude, we’re told to give thanks for this and that, and we have our gratitude practices, journals and yoga poses (I don’t know if the last one exists or if I just made it up). But after we’re done practicing, journaling, yoga-ing. It’s easy for us to fall right back into complaining, wanting, pining.

“But John, I practice my gratitude sessions every day,” you might be thinking, “and I hear people talking about gratitude all of the time.”

I applaud you and am sure that you are practicing it, but I think we talk too much about gratitude; and not enough about contentment.

Because, even though you have that practice, you still live with dissatisfaction and envy and a grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Deep down inside, you probably think that if you get that upgraded car, or prettier spouse, or more money, or that new job, or better home, or whatever, then you’ll be happier. And you might be for a bit. But you won’t stay that way. That happiness will fade because practicing gratitude is a start, not the fulfillment.

Just because we practice gratitude doesn’t make us live gratefully. When we are content, that’s the fulfillment of gratefulness.

A sign that someone is content is if they look at their life and sincerely say, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and I’m glad” even with all of the crap going on, the pain, the difficulties, mixed with the joys and blessings and goodness.

“Contentment” means you’re satisfied with who you are, what you have, where you are, etc. When you look around at your life and at yourself, you’re filled with satisfaction.

It’s not that gratitude or the practice thereof is bad—far from it. Gratitude is a part of contentment. To be content, we must have a gratitude practice and that can include our spirituality.

For Christians, like me, contentment should be particularly applicable to us. God is called our “portion” in the Scriptures, and that means he is everything we could ever need or want. And if we believe in him and that he is truly God, then we should grow in our contentment. We can know that this world does not have what we really want. For what truly feeds us and gives us joy isn’t here. It’s him, the Eternal Being.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I struggle with contentment, too. Very much so. Even when I’m doing my warrior one gratitude poses on my fancy yoga mat, getting my grateful namaste on, telling myself that I’m glad to be here right now, I can still feel a twinge of envy for this or that thing I want but don’t have.

But, I am improving. If I can, so can you.

So in this great season of Thanksgiving, let’s not just give thanks. Let’s learn to be content.

For, today is a gift.


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Patience: the secret to growth

Growth is a winding, circuitous, and weird path. It’s rarely a straight line. It doesn’t go the way we expect nor want it to go. Sometimes it even means going backward before we begin moving forward. 

And that’s not necessarily the problem. It’s this. The problem is we often expect our growth to progress linearly, and when it doesn’t, we get disappointed, frustrated, upset.

That can lead us to slow down our growth no matter where it is, or, sadly, some of us even give up. That’s why we need to see growth differently.   

What I mean by “growth” is any activity in life like learning, gaining physical capabilities or skill or fitness or spiritual development, etc. I mean any area of life where a human can progress and get better. That bettering is growth. It’s you getting better. 

And, yes, it requires hard work. We need to challenge ourselves and try to do it. We all know that. But what we may not know is that it’s more than that. 

Sometimes we must realize that even after working hard, things don’t always work. Sometimes you will have setbacks that will cause depressions. Sometimes you will feel like an utter and complete failure. But you’re not. 

You see, your growth isn’t linear. You’re on the winding path of growing. And as long as you are still trying and working and learning, you are still on that path, no matter how you feel in the moment. Even if you’re failing, you’re not a failure; you’re just on the circuitous route toward success. 

And, this is when we need patience. It’s the secret weapon for growth. Stop looking at your progress in terms of days or, worse, hours. No, look at it in terms of years, and decades. That’s what it often takes to make real leaps of progress. When you have that mindset, you’ll be able to overcome the hiccups of the day, or the week, or the month, or even years. The mistakes you made or the shortcomings or the face-plants will be blips in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re patient, you’ll give yourself space and time to grow. 

And, before you know it, you’ll see a better you. 

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How you can survive the pandemic

In this pandemic, our best medicine is to face reality.

Reality is being true to the situation at hand, you know, that we are in the middle of a pandemic and being with people is highly risky, especially indoors, mask-less. “Facing reality” means more than intellectual ascent, but actually practicing what you know to be true.

And, that might sound too obvious, but today I was at the grocery store and I saw a guy walking around the store with his mask dangling from one ear while he talked on the phone, flapping his bare lips. I wanted to say, “Hey, wearing a mask off of one ear doesn’t mean you’re wearing a mask.” Or, yesterday I heard about some family members of mine who are going out and even attending house parties.

I’m sure these aren’t stupid people. The ones I know are quite intelligent, well educated, “normal” people. Yet, they are still taking, in my opinion, outrageously dangerous risks for an unbalanced reward. I mean, why couldn’t that guy keep his mask on while talking?

You might be tempted to take the same kinds of risks. That’s probably especially true as you’re thinking about the holidays. I get it. I miss casseroles and pie. I want to hang out with family members, even that awkward uncle.

But, we are terrible at gauging risk for ourselves. We’re much better at it for others. We can see when something someone else is doing is too dangerous; but when it comes to measuring our own risks, we’re awful at it (read this article to find out more). I think that’s what causes that guy I saw on the phone and my partying family members to take bigger risks than what seems reasonable.

You see, right now, and for the foreseeable future, being true to reality is our best preventive measure to keep our loved ones and us healthy. Yes, there has been good news about Pfizer’s vaccine, but it’s not fully vetted yet. In other words, it’s still not real.

It can feel like the pandemic is close to ending. I feel it, too.

But it hasn’t ended yet. Just because we are close doesn’t mean we are there.

The last leg of a race is often the hardest one, and most treacherous.

When you think you’re winning is often when you can slack and let an opponent win. This mindset is why most accidents happen close to your home. We relax because we feel like we’re home when we’re still driving.

The reality is, we haven’t won; and we’re not home. Not yet.

But we can be. I think we will be.

And my hope is this, that as many of us as possible will get there, together—alive and well.


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Politics and investing

No matter who’s party is in the White House, the market is in the black.

The stock market has been volatile these past several days leading up to the election. And it’s easy to want to sell our investments with a click of a button and jump in a bunker and hunker down.

I get it. I was there last week.

But that doesn’t work.

You see the market has been going up for almost a century. Yes, it goes down here or there, think 2008-2009, or this past March, or last week or so. But, usually, it goes up.

That means we need to take the longview when we invest: Check out this chart.

Source: Bloomberg

And that’s true, no matter who wins the election. The blue lines mean a Democrat was president, the red, you guessed it, Republican. So whoever plops themselves behind the desk in the Oval office, if you stay invested, you will likely get wealthier. It’s not optimism. It’s just reality.

So don’t liquidate your retirement fund or portfolio.

Instead, vote.


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