Post by Erin Long, contributor
The couch is covered in unfolded laundry. The kitchen sink is pilled with dirty dishes. My unchecked ‘to-do’ list mocks me, my weekly goals are untouched. It’s already half an hour past bedtime and the kids are still running around, not even in their pjs. My husband asks where his work clothes are and I hear a child scream out through hot tears, ‘He hit me!’
What I want to do in this moment is scream, cry, run away. I want to be as far removed as possible from the responsibilities and pressures of managing a home and raising a family.
But what I need to do in this moment is to choose joy. To choose love for those entrusted to me. To choose contentment.
Choosing contentment is hard. Our society tells us our lives should be easy, they should be beautiful, we should have everything. Eventually all these things converge and our lives will be perfect. When that happens then we can be content.
Doesn’t work that way, does it?
Our sense of entitlement can hold us back from embracing the beauty in our lives and seeing the blessings that are in front of us. We experience contentment when we choose to reframe how we look at our circumstances and ground our expectations in reality.
Yes, life is challenging. Yes, things don’t always go our way. But we can be content if we choose to be. It’s not an easy choice but it does get easier when we choose it minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year-by-year.
Here are 6 practices that can increase your contentment.
1. Express gratitude
Intentionally identifying things to be grateful for helps us recognize just how blessed we are. It can be hard to see the blessings when we rush past them without stopping to notice. By slowing down and searching out the bright spots in our days we can see the aspects of our lives that we should be content with. It can be simple things like a hot cup of coffee, a giggly baby, ripe strawberries or a note from a friend.
While identifying things to be grateful for is good, expressing that gratitude is even better. It can be saying ‘thank you’ to a child for completing a chore or responding politely to a sibling, telling your husband you think he’s a great dad or letting a coworker know you enjoy working with her. Our gratitude only increases when we share it with others.
2. Keep a thankfulness journal
In the same vein as expressing gratitude, writing down what we’re thankful for can greatly increase our contentment. Either keep a running list or at the end of every day write down three things you’re thankful for. This keeps your eyes open for things to be thankful for and helps you to remember your blessings when you’re having a hard time seeing them.
3. Be generous
Giving generously of our resources affords us the opportunity to learn to manage what we have well and possibly realize that we don’t need as much as we think we do and we can be content with what we have.
Whether it’s time, money or our listening ear, giving of ourselves to others allows us to share our blessings. Instead of focusing on where we lack we can look at the needs of others and how we can make a difference in their lives. In doing so we might realize just how good we have it.
4. Stay away from what makes you discontent
Even our best attempts at contentment can be sabotaged when we enter into situations that expose the areas where we lack contentment. It could be certain stores, social media, toxic relationships or magazines. Personally, I do better when I spend as little time as possible on Pinterest and I avoid West Elm like the plague.
While we can’t remove everything that makes us discontent, especially if those things are people we have to interact with on a regular basis, we can limit exposure to messages that tell us we’re not good enough and instead choose to find the blessings in our present circumstances.
5. Take care of yourself
It’s hard to be content when we’re stretched thin and worn down. Self-care is an important aspect of contentment because it gives us the energy necessary to see the blessings in difficult circumstances and the ability to respond positively to them. Having the time and space to do what we enjoy is something to be content about in and of itself!
If you’re the praying type, prayer can have a huge impact on your contentment. CS Lewis said, ‘I don’t pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me’. While God might change our circumstances if we ask him to, it’s more likely that he’ll change our hearts.
Being in conversation with God about our discontentment might help us understand why God has us in certain circumstances and what lessons he wants us to learn through them.
Which number on this list do you think would most benefit you? (Beth here: I’m trying out a fun new method for #2, and I really need to be careful about #4 – it’s a doozy. How ’bout you?)