I'm probably the most content I've ever been in my entire life, though I still have a ways to go. Now don't get me wrong; contentment is still a struggle. I'm a recovering perfectionist, which means life has never been good enough for me. I have never been good enough for me. Until recently.
When I was in college, all I wanted was to graduate and get a job. Then, when that happened, all I wanted was to move out of my parents' house. Then, when that happened, I was itching to get married.
Well, when marriage didn't happen when I thought it should, my world fell apart. The only way I knew how to put it back together was to find other goals to focus on. That's why I ran a 10K, went to graduate school, traveled across the country and moved into my own apartment. I wanted to prove to the world, and to myself, that I still had everything under control.
Reaching those goals helped some, but not enough for me to experience contentment. Because instead of settling in and actually enjoying the life I was creating, I was stuck on what was missing. And pouting about it.
In other words, I wasn't choosing contentment. I was choosing everything but.
About a year ago, I decided I didn't want to live like that anymore. I discovered the concept of self-compassion and chose to devote 2014 to incorporating it into my life. The results have been pretty astounding. I've stopped putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself to do more, want more, and wait for more. I've learned a lot about contentment too.
These days, when I think about being content, five things come to mind:
1. Contentment means gratitude. Lots of it. Preferably, every single day. Even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard.
2. Contentment means realizing life will never be perfect. Perfection, like control, is an illusion. It's simply not real. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can stop spinning our wheels trying to accomplish it.
3. Contentment means we can be eager for the future while accepting and valuing the present. It's not only normal for us to be excited about the future, it's good. Hope sustains and motivates us. You know doesn't? Wishing our lives away by rejecting the present.
4. Contentment means knowing that the journey matters just as much as our accomplishments. I like reaching goals as much as the next person, but when I think about it, it's often not just my accomplishments that bring a smile to my face. Usually when I'm celebrating a job well done, it's because I'm remembering all the work I put in to reach my goal. It's because I forced myself to do hard things... and it eventually paid off.
5. Lastly, contentment means wanting more for your life, but not demanding it. It's possible to want more for your life without being in a frantic rush to make it happen. In my experience, life isn't too concerned with our agendas, regardless of how pushy we are with them. Contentment allows us to calm down and patiently smell the roses, instead of focusing on the thorns. Being goal-oriented is good. Being consumed by your goals is not good.
I don't think contentment is easy, by the way. I know from experience that when the going gets tough, the last thing on our minds is contentment. Additionally, I have friends who are struggling with loss, cancer, infertility, depression and difficult finances. It'd be ridiculous to suggest that they should just buck up and ignore the pain they're in. During seasons of suffering, it's normal to want out -- not to settle in. So while it's great when folks choose to remain positive during hard times, it's certainly not simple. Far from it, actually.
In my own life? Well, right now, I want a baby. A healthy, plump, giggly baby who looks a little like me and a little like her daddy. Some of my closest friends are new mothers and each time I look into their babies' eyes, my uterus sheds a tear. If I let myself think about it any longer than five minutes, my contentment slowly slips away. Comparison can be a dangerous thing. And it's so darn easy to do.
So instead, I focus on my abundance, rather than my lack. Dan and I want a little more stability in our home before we decide to become parents, and without children, we have ample energy to work on that (and a desire to do so). Our church is filled with babies each Sunday morning, and sometimes I play peekaboo with a few of them after service. And a friend of mine asked me to watch her son this weekend, which I eagerly agreed to do.
None of these things can replace a baby -- my baby -- if I'm ever blessed with one. But somehow, appreciating what I do have makes my longing for what I don't have a little more manageable.
I used to think contentment was something that happens to us when life is going as it "should." Now? I'm not so sure. Now, when I say I'm content, I think it's because I've realized that contentment is a choice -- and a preferable one, at that. My life is far from perfect and I haven't yet accomplished all that I hope to. Even so, I'm starting to realize that I don't have to be miserable about that... even when life challenges me in unimaginable ways.
That's why I'm choosing contentment. I no longer want to be that gal who is constantly doing more, wanting more and waiting for more. Living that way has never made me happy, and I'm tired of being tired. So, I'm choosing to be grateful, satisfied, and present.
I can only speak for today, but for today, I'm choosing contentment.
Akirah Robinson is a writer and therapist living in Pittsburgh, PA. She published her first book, Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life in November 2014. Check out her new e-course, the 4-Week Self-Love Experiment.