Jonathan's Perspective  

Sep 14

Finding Contentment

FINDING CONTENTMENT

      Everyone desires contentment.  We all want to be able to sit back at the end of the day feeling satisfied with who we are and what we do.  Too often we find ourselves cross with ourselves, cross with our families, and cross with our employers.  Here are a couple thoughts on how to reorient our thinking and actions to find contentment at the end of the day.

      First, stop always comparing yourself to others.  Comparison kills contentment.  Jesus tells the story of workers hired at different times of the day to toil in the owner's vineyard.  At the end of the day the owner pays each of them the same day's wage.  But those who worked the longest became angry, resentful, jealous, and envious.  Why?  They were excited to work for the agreed upon wage.  What changed?  They began to compare themselves and their situation to others.  Have you ever done that?  Your colleague gets a promotion, but you think you should have received it and are envious.  Someone gets a great opportunity, and you grumble that you never get a break. 

 

      St. Aquinas describes envy as a kind of sadness and sickness of the soul: 'the object both of charity and of envy is our neighbor's good, but by contrary movements, since charity rejoices in our neighbor's good, while Envy grieves over it...Envy is a special sort of sorrow over another's goods.'   When we count another person's blessings instead of our own, we will grow discontent and sick in our souls.  Envy is the sin of wishing that things were other than they are with your life.  Which, in a way, is an indictment against God.  If you only think about your disappointments and unsatisfied wants, you will be unhappy and discontent.  Instead of shaking your fist at God for blessing others, try counting your own blessings.  Epictetus wrote, 'He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.' This brings us to our second point about contented living.

      Thankful living increases contentment.  When the Apostle Paul was in prison, the Philippian church sent Epaphroditus with gifts to minister to Paul.  Paul rejoices in their gift, but even more in their love and concern for him.  Paul erupts in thankfulness when he writes, 'Your gifts are a fragrant offering, and acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.'(Phil 4:18-19)  Paul is not thinking of himself, his needs, or his condition.  His heart overflows in gratitude as he says that he has 'learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.'(Phil 4:12) 

      About 50 years ago, psychology shifted from focusing on abnormal psychology to positive psychology.  They started to explore how to help people function at their highest level.  It is what I call, 'understanding the way God made us and intended us to live, love, and flourish.'  Dan McAdams, professor of Psychology at Northwestern University said, 'the sense of thankfulness can turn someone's life from bitter to positive, which makes gratitude an important aspect of psychology'.  When a meta study on gratitude was done, The Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, Emmons and McCullough came up with some stunning results from living thankfully. 

  • People who describe themselves as feeling grateful to others, to God, or to creation in general tend to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.
  • In an experiment with college students, those who kept a "gratitude journal," a weekly record of things they should feel grateful for, achieved better physical health, were more optimistic, exercised more regularly, & described themselves as happier than the control group.
  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy
  • A sit-down visit with someone to express thankfulness for who they are and having them in one's life elevated their mood for an entire month!

      Paul found the secret to contentment a long time ago while in a prison.  Paul never compared what he had or endured to the situation of others.  However, he focused his energy on giving thanks to God and fellow Christians for all the blessings and opportunities he had.  I encourage you to start a gratitude journal today, or to sit down with someone in your life for the express purpose of thanking them for who they are.  Then, at the end of the day, you will go to bed with a sense of contentment.

Thankful to be part of Munholland,

Jonathan

 

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