Answers worth knowing to questions worth asking are never short and never instant. This column is dedicated to discussing topics that explore abstract questions on humanity, life, the universe, and spirituality.
Are you Content?
Do you dream of a better job, a bigger house, a fancier car, a thinner or more muscular body, better looks, a life different than your own? I guess we all do want something other than what we have, or to be something other than we are, or to perhaps look like something other than ourselves. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side,” is more relevant to the human condition now than ever before in the history of mankind. So what do my questions have to do with the title of this article?
The definition of the word contentment as described by dictionary.com is the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind. Are we as a community content? Probably not. Most of us probably answered yes to at least one of my questions in the first paragraph, and many of us could identify with being “discontent or dissatisfied” with something in our lives. Indeed, the role of technology with the surge of social media paired with a materialistic society in a fast paced urban world has contributed to our society valuing instant gratification more than deliberate contemplation. So we can blame technology, media, and the modern world but we know these are not the only causes of our discontent.
The million dollar question, however, is why are we not content, and what can we do to become content with ourselves and our lives? Most of us confuse contentment with happiness. Interestingly enough, the definition of contentment does not describe it as happiness. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, whereas contentment refers to a more stable state of being. Perhaps, the first step towards contentment is to stop expecting happiness. The second step is to contemplate slowly and thoughtfully on why we are not satisfied with the state of our lives. What are we not cultivating in ourselves to bring us to a state where we can be at peace with ourselves aka content? We have a physical self, a mental self, an emotional self, and arguably a spiritual self which I will discuss in the next series as directly impacting contentment.
We concluded the 2nd part of the series by noting how our physical, mental and emotional selves impact contentment. Many of us cultivate our physical selves by going to the gym, or playing a sport. We also feed our mental capacity by working in a job, reading, playing chess, exercising our mind in some intellectual fashion. Our emotional selves can sometimes work overtime with all the relationships we build in life such as our marital partners; children; family members; friends; and coworkers. Lastly, our spiritual selves need nurturing through mediation, or practice of selflessness through charity work, or devotion and prayer, or through mindful and truthful living.
Unfortunately, the western modern world treats spirituality as a non-existent part of the self, and it therefore holds no value in our families and communities. There is no discussion or practice of spirituality in the lives of most people. In fact, spirituality is equated with institutionalized religion which today’s world has criticized at best as being a hypocritical myth that early humans made up in order to explain what science lacked at the time; a story told to give them something to believe in. Cynics and critics argue that this so called “fabrication” of early humans to explain the larger questions in life whether in the form of God or religion, or spirituality is what filled the void in their lives by giving them a higher purpose. According to them, spirituality and religion is a falsehood. But could spirituality not have real truth to it? Where are the proofs in life that show that we suffer from discontentment when we ignore the natural spiritual state within us? Perhaps, the absence of spirituality in our lives is the cause of the void within us, and therefore the root of our discontent and dissatisfaction. Science today claims that the practice of meditation releases chemicals in the brain that reduce stress and increase a feeling of well being. Research has shown that Cancer patients who meditate before chemotherapy experience a more positive result as well as no nausea and other complications. Studies on people who suffer from depression show that meditation and prayer have shown as much improvement in patients as anti-depressants. How can meditative practice yield such powerful effects if spirituality was not an integral part of the human condition?
Spirituality is undeniably a part of ourselves equally as important as our other more tangible parts. So what can we do to feed our starving spirits especially if we are not religious, and don’t have a clue on how to meditate? There are very simple and small things we can do in our day to get started on filling this void within us. For example, (1) as soon as you wake up in the morning and open your eyes do not pick up your phone, or get out of bed. Spend one minute being thankful that you are alive and well this morning. If you’re partner is in bed with you, glance over at them and be thankful that they are alive and well. If you have children in your home or other loved ones feel gratitude in your mind that they are waking this morning as well and all is as it should be. Try not to rush through these thoughts, but rather relish the feeling of gratitude of having yourself and those you love here to share another day with you. The (2) second thing we can do to feel more whole is to be kind to others. A small gesture of kindness to a stranger can go a long way like letting someone cut you in line, or offer your seat on the train or bus, or to help someone with bags in their hands by holding the door for them. Thirdly, (3) Give a genuine compliment or praise to someone who you might be in competition with as a sign of your humility and strength rather than weakness. This practice will help you let go of the negativity built inside of you towards others. Another way to nurture your spirituality in daily life is to (4) pray or wish something good and positive for another person that you know who may be struggling or suffering. By wishing well upon others you don’t lose anything, but rather gain compassion. And at the end of the day, before you sleep (5) think of at least 2 things that you can be thankful for in your day. Big or small, gratitude is the key to contentment.
After a week of this practice, begin to contemplate on how thinking about others before yourself, and being more thankful, giving, and compassionate makes you feel. Experience how quiet contemplation and selflessness begin to alter your state of being. Now, when you hear others speak of their discontent, you may feel disconnected to their situation due to the state of your own contentment, and perhaps even smile quietly and knowingly at their oblivion. Awareness of the spiritual void within us and the practice towards cultivating a strong sense of an enlightened self is the path to contentment. It is not easy, and most definitely not quick, but nothing worth being is ever so.