A Path to Contentment
Nothing is more unsatisfying than being in the in-between. That anticipation of finding out if your labor will ever bear fruit, or if you’re even on the right track. Happiness is often linked to contentment and satisfaction, but contentment in itself demands some form of stability. There is no stability in the in-betweens! If I were to illustrate life, it is 95% "working on it" vs just 5% "I did it!"
For people who associate happiness with the attainment of goals, this presents a real problem. Be it relationships (family, friendships, marriage), career (education, work, professional development), most of our time and energy is spent on the in-betweens that make us happy such as:
Understanding our interests and motivations
Deepening our abilities
Finding the right partner and friends
Nurturing our relationship with our children, partner, family, friends
Improving our physical, mental and spiritual health
For most of us, the pandemic magnified the importance of this period. In the absence of the distraction of the usual rhythm of life, we were forced to take a closer look at the process, unsure when the result will present itself. Some of us had to redirect without a navigation system, adjusting our timeline, the destination or mode of transport. The “In-Between” became all that we can see.
I realized that I can be in my zone and enjoy the process…until I see what others are doing or projecting to achieve and comparing to my own. Comparison is the thief of joy indeed.
I will always perceive someone to be in a better situation than me. Whenever I start comparing, I get feelings of inadequacy and being hurried while all sense of enjoying the process leave my body. How can we disrupt this pattern and build our muscle for focusing on the joy of my present circumstances?
Physical Exertion. Any form of movement or exercise, especially when done while pushing your boundaries on a daily basis no matter how little it seems, will give you a feeling of accomplishment and boost your confidence. It is guaranteed to alter your emotional state. A positive emotional state helps us see more options and make a choice that serves us better throughout the day. Do you lock in time during the day for exercise that pushes you to your limit and gives you positive energy?
Cultivate a Nurturing Relationship. I know, I know, the pandemic isolated us. We lost some opportunities to create new or stronger bonds face to face unless we are in the same household, but there are ways. What this period taught me is that I need to value my relationship-building time more, especially the existing ones. Water the ones that encourage me, and trim those that inhibit me from moving forward. Some relationships may seem to be rosy and light, but they may still fall under the latter. I bet you're thinking of some right now.
Pay Attention to your Attention. Be choiceful where it goes. Listen to people who encourage you to move forward rather than ruminate. During the pandemic, I’ve decided to mute someone who keeps tooting her own horn and asking people about their progress. “How about you? What are you doing?” they would ask on their social page after showcasing an online meeting with 200 attendees. A push of this nature might work for some people to prod them to action, but it has an opposite effect on me. That language does not inspire me and instead puts me in an anxious-competitive state. It makes me forget for a while what my own definition of success is. Equating an event's success to your personal value is a slippery slope and might discourage you from trying out new things. Instead, I’ve chosen to listen to people who help me learn how I can grow, who show me different ways to explore and accept vulnerabilities, or how to be grateful for the mundane. When I’m not working, I choose to look at the social pages of nature, cute cats or people who make me chuckle and remind me not to take myself too seriously. How might you adjust where you put your attention?
Put in the work while being kind to yourself. Our brain always prefers comfort, and so it will tell us to stop whenever we struggle. Struggling brings instability, blurriness and momentary discomfort and that's ok, but it should not be painful. If the pain brings a risk of injury and not just discomfort, an adjustment needs to be made. (Note: The tolerance for discomfort can be increased through daily physical exertion, see point 1. It is important to stay in the discomfort and continue pushing to accomplish what you intended to do.) An adjustment might mean stopping for a moment to assess the situation, shifting your energy and paying more attention to where you’re going and how you’re getting there, and regaining balance. Ignoring the pain will result to numbing which then takes away the ability to experience joy in the process. Can you think where in your life you are experiencing discomfort vs. injury-inducing pain?
Learning how to enjoy the in-between increases your ability to be content and appreciate change, because after all that is what life is about. Change.
Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our lives is change. - Daniel Gilbert