The Art of Contentment

Here in the U.K. 28 November is ‘nothing special’. Our Jewish citizens are celebrating Hanukah, and our ex-pat U.S. citizens are celebrating Thanksgiving, but the average Brit is going about business as usual, which probably means more or less glumly, depending on such factors as weather, traffic and what they had for breakfast. The truth is, we are not a demonstrative people and it would be quite difficult to tell whether we are happy or sad just by observing us. Contentment, however, is something else, distinct from states of happiness or sadness. It is possible to be perfectly content while enduring the most appalling circumstances. That doesn’t mean acquiescing in what is wrong, or refusing to work for an improvement. Colluding with injustice is never right, nor should we confuse contentment with complacency. Contentment means, rather, not allowing what is, by definition, imperfect to destroy our serenity and joy. It is a way of transcending circumstances, allowing our inner self the freedom to be.

Serenity, joy, inner freedom, these are all, to my mind, attractive qualities we can cultivate. The art of contentment is to know that they are attainable and allow them to play a more important role in our lives than their opposites. That means a certain amount of discipline, especially over our thoughts. St Benedict was very keen on this disciplining of the mind and attention. He was, so to say, an early ‘positive thinker’, but he never intended that we should do violence to our nature. Instead, we work at recovering our true nature, our true identity, learning how to be content in any and all circumstances. If you wish to put a name to this, you could call it living the Beatitudes.

If we are content, we are grateful; and grateful people are happy people. So I would suggest that if you wish to know the secret of happiness, don’t make happiness your goal, as though this person or that activity could fulfil all your dreams. That is likely to end in disgust and disappointment. Seek contentment instead.

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3 thoughts on “The Art of Contentment”

  1. Contentment is a lovely thought, if only?

    When I reflect on things, I’m really grateful for God and the goodness and grace and gifts that he has showered upon me – something which in the past I had taken for granted, perhaps selfishly believing that I was due them for living a life of integrity, admittedly without God for a long period.

    It’s only in the relatively recent past, since 2008, when I returned to faith, that I’ve really been able to appreciate that nothing is done in our own power, but is always done through the grace and mercy of God and his love.

    Somehow this transforms us, but even so, I’ve struggled with contentment, with some idea that God is asking more of me than I can possibly give, a sense of Vocation which at first was a trial, met with disbelief, and than once tested by the Church, found wanting.

    So, contentment seemed as elusive as ever, as I felt driven to find out what God was asking of me – and it is still persistent, but somehow my recent decision (another gift from God) to change direction and allow God to take me with him on the journey, rather than me taking him, has given a real sense of contentment for the first time.

    Now, I can actually rest and wait contentedly and things are starting to happen. A new parish, an invitation to discern lay ministry with them, and actually dates for things that they are planning with me. Contentment works! And I thank God for it.

  2. I so agree. It is not always do able. Althought I cant always apply this to me I say peace of mind is priceless.
    Am working on it though and from working my own particular Programme and reading my daily reflections
    I am amazed how contented I can be and the big thing for
    me is that |I am contended with the little things whereas I
    always wanted something bigger and better but life has
    taught me it better to have what I need not what I want

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