The Mechanics of Contentment
Anxiety and depression are the juggernauts of this age. They are so common that I’m not certain we truly hear the words anymore. If someone mentions their anxiety, we fold our lips and cock our heads into the “I’m sorry” position, already not listening because we’re thinking of our own deafening worries. Where can a poor soul find rest?
Before I get into some practical steps to help your body learn the sensation of peace and contentment, I need to confirm that an intimate relationship with the Lord is the most important item to grasp for a life of contentment. We learn who He is and grow in this relationship by praying, reading our Bibles, and living in obedience. The peace, transformation, blessings, and understanding that God promises us, come after obedience, not before. However, we all pick up bad habits that can hinder contentedness even when we are working on these things. In my early years as a Christian, I had already struggled with anxiety for so long that I didn’t even know what contentedness felt like. Paul was content even after torture and imprisonment. Why was it that I wept over dishes in the sink?
Here are some practical steps that have helped me learn the sensation of contentedness. Again, these tips will not treat the root of the problem, (your relationship with God), but they teach your body how to break bad habits and turn to the Lord as the source of living water.
First, live in the present moment. It can be hard to live in the present when we don't trust God in His control. There can be many reasons for distrust, but one surprising thing my friend said to me that helped my trust in God, was that “God is happy!” I didn't think of Him as happy! I thought of Him as majestic, awe-inspiring, and good...but also grumpy. God is happy? Yes. And He is happy with you! However, even with this knowledge, we can still struggle with anxiety. So how do you return to the present when your mind is spinning with worry?
An interesting technique is to do some deep breathing and then take a moment to focus on things in your immediate vicinity. The sound of a fan, a brown desk, a smooth cup, a warm computer. What this technique does is disconnect the toxic thought spiral in your mind and allow you to switch to something healthier. You will want to replace the toxic train of thought with a good one. Anything positive will work, but an excellent go-to is giving thanks for all the blessings in your life. Coffee. Shoes. A job to pay your bills. Gratefulness is crucial for contentedness.
Second, embrace the mundane. We spend so much time fretting over goals and things we would like to have that we forget that most of life happens between achievements. Mundane in-between moments might seem boring, but there is more magic in them than you think. Even while washing the dishes there are rainbows swirling in the bubbles. The diligence and care you take in the seemingly inconsequential moments, pile up until they culminate in a victory!
Third, a surefire road to contentment is to stop comparing your life to others. God made each of us specifically. You do not look like that other person because if you did, you would be them, not you. You are the only you that there ever will be. If you are not yourself no one else will be, and the world will be missing the influence you were meant to have. Realize that you are free to learn, grow, and improve on the specific path God laid down for only you.
Lastly, for many people, we need to give ourselves permission to feel happy. Negative circumstances can hang over us like a storm that never dissipates, beating us into a posture of misery. But we have a choice. We have the freedom to feel happy no matter the situation, even when we feel like we can never be happy again. “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Practice contentedness in all situations by creating your own pockets of happiness. Strike a bargain with yourself. Right now, you do not have to let go of the anxiety, (which can feel like losing control), but just for a moment, let yourself feel, without judgment, true happiness about one small thing you like. The taste and texture of your favorite meal. The way a basketball feels in your hands. How the house smells when it’s clean. Anything. Those small spots of true happiness can be like shots of cool water while running a marathon in the desert. Do this again and again.
Learning how to be content in all situations can feel foreign, even unnatural, but it is biblical and healthy. Contentedness is not feeling happy all the time and living in denial. No. Negative things happen, negative emotions will come. However, those who are content have an underlying joy that no one can take away. Joy in your Lord, excitement for the piles of good things God has given us. Adamantly acknowledging the beauty of the world that prevails among the corruption of sin. The core of contentment is a deep relationship with God, but living in the present, embracing the mundane, no longer comparing your life to others', and giving yourself permission to feel small drops of happiness even during trials, are practical ways to help our hearts remember how it feels to be content when unhealthy anxiety inevitably crops back in.