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It’s amazing how it quickly it can happen.
One minute everything is awesome and we are feeling good about life.
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The next minute we see photos of a friend’s vacation on Instagram, or we hear that so-and-so’s husband just got a promotion, or we find out that our sister’s daughter just got cast in a dog food commercial and is on the fast track to stardom, or the latest Pottery Barn catalog
And suddenly we’re not feeling quite so serene.
Our own vacation plans now seem lame. We wish our husband would get a promotion, or at least a raise. We wonder why our kids aren’t star material. And our house suddenly feels hopelessly out of style.
It’s a slippery slope, this contentment thing.
And if we’re not careful, our desire for always having just a little bit more will prevent us from ever actually obtaining everything we want.
About a year ago, when my oldest daughter Maggie turned 10, she asked if she could (please please pretty please) have her birthday party at the American Girl store. And while I normally would have balked at the idea, at that particular moment in time we had just moved cross country and I was feeling totally overwhelmed at the thought of trying to plan a party. And so I practically jumped at the opportunity to just show up and have someone else take care of all the details.
To be fair, the party was pretty wonderful. The food was good. The games were fun. The party favors were nice. The cake delicious. And even the price, for the size of our very small group, probably ended up being less than I would have spent on a party at home. My daughter was ecstatic.
I called it a win.
But there were a few hidden repercussions that I hadn’t quite anticipated. You see, both Maggie and her sister Annie had been saving their money for months for a trip to the AG store, and they found plenty of opportunities to spend it! Thus, between their own purchases and a few extras provided by their grandma and auntie, they came home with a lot of new stuff for their dolls.
(And, as you probably know, I’m not real big on STUFF!)
Even so, the stuff they brought home wasn’t really the problem. The biggest problem was the stuff that didn’t come home with them. All that pretty stuff in the glossy catalog that they kept paging through over and over and over again, all that stuff that they didn’t get that they continued endlessly talking about and obsessing on.
I started noticing that their playtime, instead of spent actually playing with their dolls and enjoying all the new accessories they now had, was spent talking about about getting those new things in the catalog and discussing all the things at the store they still wanted.
The more I noticed it, the more uneasy I got, until finally, one day, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I sat them down and explained that I was going to take the catalog away, and I asked them if they had noticed that they seemed to be spending more time wishing for the things they didn’t have, instead of appreciating and enjoying the things they did have. We talked about discontentment, and about what it means to have an attitude of gratitude, and how easy it is to forget to be happy with what we have when we are always looking for that next thing.
Thankfully, they took it well. We all moved on, and I was happy to see them start simply enjoying their dolls again.
But oh, how I wish it were that easy for adults—myself included!
The reality is that discontentment can creep up every single one of us SO easily, before we even realize it is happening!
While our source of longing might not be the American Girl catalog, chances are it is something. Between Pinterest and Facebook, magazines and catalogs, television shows and a constant bombardment of advertisements reminding us of all the things we don’t have, our default mode is often to be dissatisfied.
In ancient times Socrates wisely pointed out that “he who is not contented with what he has will not be contented with what he would like to have.” More recently, someone else once said “There are two ways to be rich; one is to have everything you want, the other is to want everything you have.”
In other words, contentment comes from within, not from what we have.
The truth is that it takes effort and intentionality to practice an attitude of gratitude in a world that constantly tells us what we have isn’t enough. We have to practice counting our blessings. We have to be purposeful about remembering what we have.
Because the only way to have everything we want is to want everything we have.
And so, my little piece of advice, for both you and for myself, is to be conscious about practicing contentment in your life. Pay attention to that little voice of discontentment that comes creeping in when you’re not paying attention, and take steps to shut it down. Throw away the catalogs that keep taunting you. Stay off Pinterest or social media, and stop reading or magazines or watching shows that make you feel like you need more.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
It might just make all the difference.