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?
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.