Your Situation Isn’t Your Problem

Totally ContentFor years, I lived in the future.  Always looking ahead to what was in store for me just around the corner.  That shiny new do-dad or relationship would finally push me into contentment.

“If I can just get a promotion, maybe I can start paying down my debt…”

“Man, if [girl’s name] says ‘yes’ to a date, I’ll be set…”

“My life would be so much better if I moved out of this dumpy apartment and got a nicer one…”

The thing is, I never felt better.

The situation wasn’t the problem.  I was the problem.

A lesson that I learned (and am still learning) is that nothing can MAKE me content.  No amount of money, no job, no other person (even someone as close to me as my wife).  I finally realized it came down to taking the time to understand who I am on the inside, versus looking for some external validation.

HAPPINESS vs. CONTENTMENT

Happiness is the fleeting enjoyment that comes from a new Xbox, or a new house.  Money, prestige and notoriety can bring you happiness, all the naysayers aside.  What all these things provide is choices, and having choices makes us happy.

As humans, we pursue novelty in life, and all the “stuff” we accumulate provides it.  Get tired of doing one thing, start doing another.  Having options allows us to switch at will.

Contentment, on the other hand, does not come from having choices.  Contentment comes from WHAT YOU DO with those choices.

If you choose to accumulate more and more options because you’re bored with what you have, you’ll continue to live a life of tedium punctuated with brief moments of lightheartedness.

If, however, you spend the time and effort to discern who you are, then you’ll be able to make the choices in your life that align with that.  That’s why I’ve said in the past that every decision you make in life needs to come from your values.  Your values are who you are, and if you try to act contrary to them, you won’t find contentment.

NEXT STEPS

So, how do we know which choices are going to bring us contentment, and which will bring us only fleeting happiness?

You first need to know what your values are.  Only you can determine that.  If you need some help on that, check out my Life Design series.  Your values come from deep inside of you, and a lot of us may not have ever taken the time to understand what they are.

Once you know your values, determine never, never, NEVER to violate those values for anything.  If you’re faced with a choice, always choose the path that advances your values.  Honestly, this might cost you some money, friends, or opportunities.  But, you’ll never be far from contentment when the face you show the world is who you truly are.

Are you content, or are you chasing happiness?  If you’ve struggled with this issue before, what was your key to overcoming it?  How did you find contentment?  Let us know in the comments

Photo courtesy: me’nthedogs

5 thoughts on “Your Situation Isn’t Your Problem”

  1. I'm definitely content, but it has been a bit of a journey. I had to break all the false ties to materialism, and start really evaluating what I need to be happy. In the process I have become a minimalist, and I find much more value in good company, a fun game, or a moment of silence than I could get out of having the latest pair of shoes, that promotion, or anything like that. With things like that its like Bruce Lee said, "To hell with circumstance; I create my own opportunity."

  2. Yes, but what if my values are to live for gadgets and promotions? Just kidding.

    I do believe that to some degree every single person struggles with this. And I also feel that it is not enough to conquer materialism, individualism, or any other "-ism's". Even Fransiscan monks, who had already given up much of the choice in their lives and were living without material possessions are disciplined to be content with their station, not to seek approval for their labors, and so on. So that tells me it must be more than just stuff. I like the comment that you made to evaluate and understand our choices, values, and how those two relate. I can admit as I'm sure others would that many times we make choices with little or no thought to our values, or whether they move us closer to a goal. We are making decisions in the moment of our want or need. It's precisely for this reason that most companies develop a vision or mission statement. As cliche as it sounds, I think it's an immensely powerful tool for an individual as well. It helps us to measure the appropriateness of our actions. Thanks for a thought provoking post, J.

  3. I'm very content. When I was younger I thought that happiness would come from hanging out with cool people, going to cool places, and having nice things. Now that I have a family I have realized that there is no one in the world cooler than my one year old son or my wife. Not that we don't still have our adventures, but we do it as a team.

  4. This comes basically from not having the foggiest idea about who you are.

    I mean – everyone can put a litany of things they are – son/student/worker/ husband/father etc. The thing is – that's just names from the outside, the roles you play in the theater of life.

    We identify with them, but they are not us. Inside us there is something that waits to be awakened – a candle of curiosity that as long as we can remember was continually put down by people who surrounded us. This curiosity is your spark of life, and when it will get extinguished it will be the beginning of your demise – you'll roll on some more from a mere impetus, but finally you'll just pass away.

    Because we were discouraged to look inside, we tend to search for it around us – we find a glitter and try to get it, only to find out that was a reflection, and the thing we were fighting to get is just an empty shell. So we turn around and follow the next glitter…

    All the while the kindling light you search for is within you.

    When we are with little kids we see this candle in them – it lightens the world around them – us including.

    Meditate on it

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