Would you like to know how to be content in a discontented world that can be falling apart all around you? It starts with understanding that contentment isn’t something that happens naturally. Hopefully, that will bring you some comfort! To be content, however, takes learning to be content.
Below is a recording of the live video that I did on my Facebook Page. You will find more inspiration and encouragement there. If you haven’t already, please Like and Follow my Page. I would be most grateful!
If you liked this post on contentment and the Three Systems of the Brain that you’ll watch or read below, you may also like this post and video: Calm Your Anxiety With Understanding.
An Example of the Learning to Be Content from the Bible
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Philippi when he was in prison for yet another time for preaching the gospel. In the letter, which is known as the book of Philippians, he writes in Chapter 4, verses 11-12:
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”
This contentment was a learned skill, like a muscle that he had to develop to find joy in his circumstances. His faith and our faith makes it a lot easier to experience “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” which leads to contentment.
Our Culture Fights to Keep Us Discontented
For the sake of ease, I will copy a Bible verse from the Internet and paste it into a document. I put into the Google search: I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. The usual Bible sources popped up.
Then I had a good laugh. On the side and on the bottom of my browser screen popped up ads for huge diamond, emerald, and elaborate rings with other gemstones. One by one, the rings were animated to lunge towards me to make sure I got a better look. Then there were necklaces, broches, and handbags, all studded in precious stones.
Why was I served up those ads? I was searching for contentment, ironically. The jewelry company didn’t want me to be content with what jewelry I had. I must admit. What they were showing was beautiful. They were persistent. I had no intention to purchase anything, but they got me to click to take a closer look.
Advertising bombards us with what we need to have to be happy: a newer, better car, home, clothes, jewelry, job, vacation. The repetition works in getting us to not be content with what we have or who we are.
Contentment is an Inside Job
The Greek translation of content in Philippians, literally means to be sufficient to self, or self-sufficient and competent, to be independent of external circumstances and other people. Like I say about joy and flow, contentment is an inside job.
We have control over how contented we are. But there’s a problem if we have a gnawing sense of continuous discontentment. We must find the source from which it comes.
How Being Content is Found in Compassion
The Cambridge Dictionary describes compassion as a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them. Two idioms are being a good listener or lending a shoulder to cry on.
But how often do we show compassion towards others and lack compassion for ourselves?
For those who suffer with self-criticism and shame because of neglect, abuse, or trauma, there is a therapy called compassion-focused therapy founded by British clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert. He found that his clients were not responding to traditional cognitive therapy.
Understanding negative thoughts and behaviors wasn’t enough to bring them healing. “They needed tools to soothe themselves and experience inner peace.”
Understanding Contentment from the Three Systems of the Brain
It is crucial for a child to receive unconditional love from a caregiver for the first seven years of her/his life. It’s called attachment theory. If a child doesn’t get the love and attention they need, they will become anxious, lack confidence, and learn to not trust others or themselves.
According to Gilbert, there are three systems to the brain: the threat system, the drive system, and the contentment system.
The Threat System: This is our fight or flight instinct that is our reaction system to danger. It is protection focused.
The Drive System: This is our source of motivation. It drives us to achieve goals and things that we need.
The Contentment System: This is our soothing system. It’s when we feel safe and at peace. There is no need to strive or attain anything.
When We Don’t Receive Compassion, We Can’t Learn to Be Content
Author Danielle Bernock asked me to share my story in her book, Because You Matter – How to Take Ownership of Your Life So You Can Really Live.
I shared how I didn’t have my own bedroom but slept on a fold-out couch in our living room. Due to how small our house was, there was no place to hide from my father’s alcoholic rages.
Danielle wrote, “Jackie had no where to hide, so she hid within herself.”
I never considered that before. But she was right. I did hide within myself. There was no one there to comfort or soothe me. My mother would tell me to get it together if I started to cry in her British stiff-upper lip way. She wasn’t being mean. She was teaching me to cope the way she did, to stuff the feelings down or push them away.
Because I had no role model to learn how to soothe myself, I spent decades striving to overachieve to prove my self-worth never feeling that I did enough. I stuffed down my feelings with food and alcohol which only led to an eating disorder, more shame, and self-loathing.
I learned not to trust anyone because I couldn’t trust the people who were supposed to have loved me to provide me with safety.
The Secret to Being Content is Learned through Self-Compassion
In my book, The Freedom to Eat – 10 Secrets for Lasting Weight Loss and Inner Peace, I share that I wasn’t aware of this behavior of constantly beating myself up. I thought it was normal, even virtuous, based on our society’s call to stress and strive to be rewarded. We are always supposed to become a better version of ourselves, right?
But this being better can take on feeling not good enough, or less than. What we need to embrace is being the healthiest version of ourselves.
It wasn’t until my choir director barked five words to me during a voice lesson, “Why won’t you let go?!!?”, that I woke up from this trance of self-condemnation and the tyranny of never doing or being enough.
Now, I am aware to focus on treating myself with loving kindness. I recognize the effect my parents’ behavior had on my life. No one was there to soothe me, so I had not learned how to soothe myself.
Learning to be content is a moment by moment choice. It doesn’t mean no longer setting goals or wanting to achieve anything. It means listening to that still small voice inside, the voice of Truth that expresses your heart’s desires, those desires that God put in your heart.
It’s taking inspired action each day whether that’s reaching out with compassion to someone or working on something new. It’s treating yourself with compassion and loving kindness knowing that at the end of the day, what you did was enough. Why? Because there will always be more to do.
It’s embracing the words of the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am in to be content.” My heart’s desire is that you will join me in learning to be in that state of contentment too.
Meditation led me to trust God, myself and others. It helped me learn to be still and let go of past hurts to soothe my spirit. That’s why I created these God-centered meditations to help others be still, let go, and trust.
Are there any takeaways you learned or want to share regarding this post? I’d love for you to leave a comment below.
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DanielleJune 9, 2020 5:56 am
I really like how you said contentment is an inside job. Learning to be content is a wonderful thing.
And thank you for sharing my book too.