Contentment is the greatest treasure.
I’ve never been a particularly jealous person. I don’t know why but I’m very grateful that comparison has not been something I have battled. If anything, I am most competitive with myself. In the past though, I had always had a fascination with people who seemed content. I was always either living in the past or future making contentment impossible. The content people were like unicorns that I wanted to get close to, even as I wasn’t sure there was such a thing.
When I was in some of my most restless years, trying to navigate parenting and marriage without feeling like an utter failure, I worked with a nurse who radiated peace and calm. It wasn’t for lack of hard times or circumstances. She could have easily lived in the past, she was left as a newly pregnant woman by her husband who found someone new. She also could have easily lived in the future, filling her life with anxiety and what ifs as her brother battled a brain tumor. Instead, she floated into work, light and smiling. She lived in positivity (and still does by the way) and I was in awe of her.
At the time, I didn’t realize what I was so drawn to was contentment. I didn’t realize the reason she seemed so at ease was because she chose, knowingly or unknowingly, to live in the present. I had been so blindsided by the teeter totter between depression (the past) and anxiety (the future), that the middle ground of serenity (living in the present) was not even something I could define.
Fast forward a decade and a million life experiences, and not only could I label contentment, but I was desperately seeking it. I knew it was unattainable in my marriage. I knew if I stayed, my own contentment was not the biggest thing on the line, but my children’s as well. I knew walking away from that was the first, if not hardest, step to finding comfort. I had also sought a new career and told myself a hundred times, “I’ll be content when… (insert the lies we tell ourselves).”
You see, I always thought contentment was something we obtained. I thought it was something we worked toward like a degree. Read, study, take the test, pass, and BAM certified content human being. I even thought maybe it was earned with time. Except with each next step in life – college grad, real life adult job, marriage, house, dog, kids, divorce, new career, blah, blah – I still felt the same. How could that be?
Because, as I now know (thankfully!), contentment is not a thing. It is a state and a choice. Yes, a choice. It is a feeling we can have despite our stage in life, our circumstance, our past, or our future. I can’t say I woke up one day and said, screw this, I’m going to be content dammit! But slowly as I chose to grow as a person, to accept that I was not a victim, to live in gratitude, I felt the warm hug of contentment wrap around me. You can too. And as I continue to choose those things, I realize I am living less in the past and worrying less about the future. Instead I am choosing to stay in the present where the peace has been all along.