I guess I didn’t think we’re supposed to wrestle with that word. Contentment certainly seems to imply passive acceptance. But what does it really mean? The dictionaries throw about words like “peaceful happiness” and “satisfaction.” Somehow I find these ideas inadequate.
Wikipedia adds this interesting twist, “Colloquially speaking, contentment could be a state of having accepted one’s situation and is a milder and more tentative form of happiness.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contentment
A “tentative form of happiness”? What? Contentment is a less powerful thing than the mercurial barometer that is my happiness? I don’t think so. My feelings of happiness seem to correspond directly to external pressures. I thought contentment was more of an internal calm.
Let’s look at the Wikipedia phrase, “having accepted one’s situation.” I would have to say that this is indeed much closer to our current cultural understanding of the word “contentment.” Yet to me, that phrase also sounds suspiciously like resignation. I am definitely not satisfied with that concept!
Zen philosophy might say something like this:
“So contentment isn’t a matter with being content with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being content with what you have — but realizing that as humans, we will always try to improve, no matter how happy we are. If we don’t, we have given up on life.”
I am not a Zen master, but that discussion starts to ring a little closer to the truth. Zen is to my mind the art of being present in the moment. That is very popular today, being mindful of the present. It is not a bad lesson, to be mindful of the moment, to participate fully in your own life. Yet sometimes the present circumstances are not a place where you want your mind to dwell.
The Bible tells me to “press toward the mark” (Philippians 3:10-14.) Yet it is this same Biblical author, Paul, in this same letter, just a few verses later, who states:
” I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:11b-13 NIV
While I can and do rejoice in my current circumstances, I truly do not wish to stay here. So how do I reconcile being content in every situation with pressing on to the goal? They must not be the mutually exclusive concepts that they would seem to be. I am not satisfied to stay where I am in my healing path from my traumatic brain injury. Yet, I can be willing to live in this moment, to enjoy this slow walk toward mental freedom.
I am SO THANKFUL to have come this far! I can definitely see progress, and I am indeed well satisfied with the journey to this point. I have many ups and downs, there are entire weeks where I seem to have stalled, but I haven’t really lost any ground. Although I keep pushing against the “speed limit” my brain seems to have imposed upon the healing process, I can definitely see that progress has been made toward recovery. I might want to be a hare, but I’m learning to appreciate the tortoise.
The thing that frightens me is the idea that I will have to stop here, in this stage of the healing process. Fortunately, my neurologist is confident I will make a complete recovery. Indeed, I myself believe I will heal 110%, with my brain in better health than before my accident. This fear seems to come from the thought that being content and accepting this circumstance is the same as being willing to stay here. That, however, is more like complacency, isn’t it?
Oddly enough, I found this situation is described well in Forbes Magazine:
It’s wonderful to feel fulfilled at work, comfortable with your colleagues, your boss, and the company. If you truly enjoy your work why would you even consider pushing yourself out of your comfort zone?
The danger is that being too complacent can derail your career.
Dictionary.com’s definition of complacency is “a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.”
The Forbes article is specifically discussing one’s employment situation. I am personally struggling on a far more fundamental level, to regain my brain functioning, to reclaim my life. Slipping on the ice on 1/25/19 robbed me of part of my mental sharpness, much of my brain acuity, which is far more significant to me than the career my fall also took away that day. Yet this same article goes on the mention something I found highly relevant to my situation:
“Here are five signs that your complacency can derail you.
1. You are no longer striving to do your best.”
THIS is what I fear. I want to do my best to heal my brain. I want to fully recover from my injury. I am so thankful to have reached my current level of recovery – yet I am NOT satisfied with STAYING here. I have a goal I am pursuing, 110% healing. Fifty percent is far short of that goal. I am not content to remain here forever. I don’t think I need to be.
I think many times we mistake contentment for complacency. I don’t wrestle with being where I am (usually), but with the idea of staying here forever. Yet the Apostle Paul, who had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, was at the same time pressing on toward a goal. He was content but not complacent. This is my desire for myself. There are many, many good things to appreciate along this healing journey; I am happy to see these, to count my blessings, to exercise gratitude. Yet I want to keep going, to press on toward my goals, to not live stuck halfway to my destination.