Does contentment follow after certain conditions are met – or does (lack of) contentment lead to your conditions?
Are we objects or subjects?
I used to believe that our external circumstances were a given. That they formed an undeniable, unalterable reality entirely made up of facts that we can either like or dislike, accept or reject, love or hate – but cannot change.
At least not substantially.
On a personal level, this meant that if my circumstances brought about the experience of dissatisfaction, I could either face and embrace it – or run and hide.
Though I acknowledged some personal power there, I didn’t realize that via the same inner process of changing my perspective, I could, in fact, also change my outer reality.
Back then, I didn’t see how I was creating my circumstances as much as they were affecting me.
And yet, I did it all the time.
For better AND worse:
I did it for worse, when I ruminated about things that brought me down, when I focused on things (and people) that weren’t bringing me joy, and when I took other people’s opinion of me personally.
I then created a reality of discontent, sadness, frustration, and disappointment – and all the circumstances to match that.
I did it for better when I changed unhealthy habits (and people) and replaced them for healthier ones, when I focused on things (and people) that made me feel grateful, and when I accepted there are things (and people) you cannot change, no matter how much you’d like to.
I then created a reality that brought more and more positive experiences into my life.
I also did it for better by changing jobs (when they weren’t bringing me joy anymore), careers (when I figured I didn’t want a “regular” job anymore), cities (when my surroundings seemed uninspiring), and countries (when I craved more adventure, cultural exploration, and lots of sea and sunshine).
I then created a reality that gave me even more glimpses of possibilities and opportunities available to me – and with that, glimpses of possibilities available to others as well.
We find what we’re looking for – “good” or “bad”
Contentment does not follow. It leads.
The more I focused on things that made me content, the more contentment I’d experience.
And the more I’d experience contentment, the more circumstances would show up in my world that made me feel content.
I learned that…
what we look for, we find,
what we focus on, grows,
what we ignore, asks for more attention,
and what we push away comes back with equal (or greater) force.
This is true on a personal level – but it happens in our societies at large just the same.
Although shared realities exist (from our shared planet Earth with all its features, to shared cultures, behaviors, and demographics) our experience of these shared spaces is much less dependent on their actual traits than on our personal lenses.
By the way we look at things, the things we look at change
It’s with our own perspectives, thoughts, and beliefs that we create our personal realities and co-create our shared one.
Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously – we cannot be anything other than creators in this world.
But are we content with what we (co-)created?
For most of us, the answer on societal level with all of its current upheaval will most likely be no.
And for many of us, due to COVID and its social and economical ramifications, the answer is probably no on a personal level right now too.
How can we create a reality we truly desire?
Since our circumstances are not simply causing our experience, they are also the result of our experience, I’d like to challenge our ability for contentment today.
Many people have been confronted with challenging circumstances in life. Perhaps even more challenging than yours or mine combined. And many of them showed that is possible to transform these situations or conditions. Both on a personal level and on a societal one.
Some of the most fulfilled people I ever met, went through some of the most excruciating situations.
Similarly, some of some of the “wealthiest” I ever met were financially poor (and vice versa).
The circumstances showing up in their lives could have easily been debilitating. But they chose differently.
People like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Malala Yusuf, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Maya Angelou, Immaculée Ilibagiza, Stephen Hawking, and Oscar Pistorius, are well-known incredible examples of people that have not only been able to transform their own realities through and despite remarkable challenges but inspired many others to do the same.
Although we do not have the power to control everything around us – and definitely not in an instant – we all have the power to choose what we focus on.
And all of these people showed that by directing your focus, you can alter your experience – and not only yours.
They are the proof that we have the power to choose what’s important to us and act accordingly.
And that it’s possible to be content with whatever way, shape or form in which life presents itself to us.
Contentment is a practice
Because in (your) reality, any circumstance can bring contentment.
Just like beauty is everywhere we look if we’re willing to see it, fulfillment can be brought about in any situation too. By choice.
Even if this means you have to look a little harder, dive a little deeper or search a little further.
And when we discover that it is possible to be content even in gruelling times, we might finally discover the gift that has always been here, patiently waiting for the taking:
Our power to create a new reality.
A better one.
A healthier one.
One that isn’t just bringing contentment to ourselves (for a little while) – but one that truly fulfills everyone.