When I was younger, I somehow thought that contentment in where I was felt a whole lot more passive. You’re happy, right? That just means you’re drifting in a golden glow through life, going with the flow, having found your sweet spot in the scheme of things. Content.
And then I discovered that it’s not quite so simple. Things rarely are once you reach that magical and fuzzy line of adulthood. I have definitely had moments where I looked back going ‘I’m not ready! I want to get out of this!’ but alas, there is no time travel.
It’s a bit like falling in love. Such a passive, out of control phrase, isn’t it? Falling… as a human, with no wings, once I fall it’s all out of my hands (no matter how wildly I wave them) until I hit the ground and then it’s landing. My Dad, laughing from the top of an apple tree while my mother scolded him for climbing up there, informed us kids that it’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the landing. So if falling in love is so uncontrolled, what does landing in love feel like? Work. It’s work. As I’m typing this my First Reader is sleeping sweetly, and I can think about how much I love him because he works for it. And in return I work at it. Love and partnership are far more effort than the movies and books make out.
Contentment is the same way. It’s recognizing that sometimes you are in a place for a season, and you should try to find joy in it, because there’s no good way out of it. You’re here. Make the best of it. It’s not about wallowing, either. It’s not at all passive. Being content where you are is more like being on a river, in a canoe. You’re in control. You just aren’t exhausting yourself trying to paddle upstream because you have a plan, and you’re getting there. Contentment can also mean doing the grueling work of a portage, carrying that canoe and all your gear over to another river because the one you were on wasn’t going to your ultimate goal.
It’s not always easy. When you are in a job that is sheer drudgery, and you badly want to be somewhere else, anywhere else, it takes real work to stay content. It means you have to have the maturity to pull back, put on a wide angle lens to see the big picture in your mind of what your life is, what you want it to be, and then you can zoom way down to what is good now. Be ambitious. Reach for the stars. But appreciate the dandelions in bloom here and now while the slow work of building your spaceship goes on. Life can both be boring and have an upward trajectory.
Sometimes being content means sacrificing. Putting aside free time and relaxation to work very hard on what you want to do later on. Contentment is never sitting still, though. Even when you are happiest, you will find that you are working toward something. Perhaps contentment is having purpose in life.
I find that there are days I lose sight of my purpose. I’m bored, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m in pain… so many distractions. And those are the days I have to wrestle in my self to rediscover the contentment of the present. To remember that I have the knowledge of the ages at my fingertips if I want to stimulate myself mentally. That I have been able to drop four pant sizes and have goal pants even smaller but within reach if I stay the course on getting up early, exercising, and eating right. That the job might be drudgery but it’s not forever. I can do this. And furthermore, I am blessed and happy.
It’s a matter of refocusing, refreshing my mental picture of goals, and repurposing where I am with where I can be soon. I’m content to be here, for now, knowing that I am in control and going in the right direction. The unseen currents under me are the ones taking me where I want to go, and if I ship the paddle over the gunwales for a few minutes, relax, and enjoy the sunshine on the water, I’m in no danger of going the wrong direction. I’m content and happy and still, I strive for higher things.
I have faith I’ll get there. In time.