Cultivating the Quality of Contentment, Part II
This is the second and final installment in a series focusing on cultivating the quality of deep-seated contentment, which constitutes an integral component in enhancing our recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, other addictive disorders. This installment focuses on practical steps we can take to manifest the qualities of contentment and equanimity in our lives.
As set forth in the preceding column, the quality of contentment is essentially synonymous with a profound sense of peace of mind and satisfaction, characterized by freedom from worry and the absence of craving for something that we perceive as lacking in our lives. Enduring contentment embodies a sense of deep-down, soul-satisfying contentment that infuses our lives with peace, serenity and an abiding sense of fulfillment. As was the case with the first installment, many of the concepts presented are inspired by a profound book by Neil Clark Warren titled Finding Contentment: When Momentary Happiness Isn’t Enough (1997).
Steps for Manifesting Contentment in Our Lives
The following suggestions are presented to assist you and your clients in enhancing your lives with a deep sense of abiding contentment. As you read these suggestions, you may notice that many if not all of them run parallel to following a Twelve Step recovery program.
Warren believes that the deepest and richest form of contentment occurs when we make choices that guide us to a truly authentic existence. As the saying goes, “To thine own self be true.” Authenticity, in turn, entails intimately knowing ourselves and appreciating our unique gifts and abilities, coming to terms with our less desirable qualities, taking charge of our lives, and making moment by moment choices that demonstrate honor and respect for both ourselves and those affected by our actions.
While taking charge of our lives and living a truly authentic existence may initially involve considerable sacrifice, it is definitely worth the price. Many people undertake mid-career changes driven by a desire to follow their own inner compass. Examples include a lawyer who opts to go back to school and experience an initial decline in income to follow his or her dream to become a psychotherapist, and an executive who takes an early retirement to pursue inner fulfillment as an artist or writer. While these choices may initially cause considerable disruption in our lives, they often prove to be both liberating and energizing, while ultimately yielding substantial rewards in terms of life satisfaction. As the saying goes, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
The older I get, the more convinced I am that the happiest people are those who infuse their lives with a profound sense of gratitude for what they have, rather than obsessing over what appears to be lacking in their lives. Pause for a moment, partially fill your drinking glass with water, and ask yourself, “Is my glass half empty or half full?”
One of my neighbors is definitely one of the most positive people I have ever met. He lives by the mantra “Focus on the positive aspect of everything you experience!” A few examples from my own life come to mind as I ponder the powerful ramifications of my friend’s approach to life. Years ago back in California I worked as director of business development for a large medical group, a job that entailed a thirty-mile commute over crowded freeways. On a rainy day my drive would really get rough as things would slow down to a crawl. At those times I would focus on enjoying the music on my favorite jazz station, welcoming the additional sets I would get to listen to, while giving thanks for a tolerant boss who was okay with my arriving thirty to forty-five minutes late, provided that I stayed over to make up the time.
A year and a half ago I had a rather painful fall that damaged my left arm and hand. Fortunately I was referred to an occupational therapist who put me through a rigorous exercise routine to regain my former agility. Painful though these exercises were, I stuck with the program to avoid handicapping myself as a writer. I got to the point where I was proud of my weekly progress and even found myself enjoying the routine!
Each morning I consciously focus on what I am grateful for by jotting down a brief, three- to five-item gratitude list. Two of my entries from this morning are: “I feel really good about the head start I made on my column for Counselor yesterday afternoon” and “I really enjoyed walking with Ann and Jack [our dog] in the park earlier this morning.”
Enjoy the Now
Live in the now and greet each day as an adventure presenting exciting challenges, learning experiences, and opportunities to fully embrace the sheer joy of living.
Unfortunately, most of us live a good part of our lives outside the now moment, caught up in bemoaning our past mistakes and worrying about the future. We need to find what works best for grounding ourselves in the present moment. Two of my favorite grounding activities are hiking in nature and writing, where I become totally immersed in the creative flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).
Recovering from a chronic lack of self-esteem during much of my younger years, at this point I generally feel pretty good about who I am and where I am going. In an effort to avoid letting a particularly gratifying accomplishment go to my head, each morning I ask my higher power to guide me to strive for a good balance and blending between pride, confidence, and humility.
Find and follow your true dreams, and strive to manifest a life of loving service and true fulfillment. A relatively recent shift in my life comes to mind as I write these words. About a year and a half ago my brother suffered a major stroke, followed by a hemorrhagic stroke fifteen months later. Fortunately we live in the same town, and I took it upon myself to serve as his patient advocate. At times this becomes a rather time consuming and draining involvement. For example, I have fallen several months behind in my current book project and have learned to recognize the need to set appropriate boundaries on my caregiving role. Despite the frustration accompanying that role, it constantly opens the door to new vistas of fulfillment. Again, I am reminded of my neighbor’s mantra: “Focus on the positive aspects of everything you experience!”
Practice the Serenity Prayer and view whatever setbacks you encounter as opportunities to learn and stretch beyond your previous self-imposed limitations. Through focusing on the acceptance part of this marvelous prayer, we cultivate the quality of equanimity by learning to accept those circumstance that are, at least for the moment, beyond our control. Focusing on the courage aspect, we become inspired to take calculated risks to achieve an outcome that may enhance our life and the lives of those around us. As Emmett Miller says in his CD expounding on the Serenity Prayer, “A ship in the harbor is always safe, but that’s not what ships are made for” (2005). In my book The Wellness-Recovery Connection (2004) I present a worksheet for applying the Serenity Prayer to your daily life.
The Gift of Life
Every day, give thanks for the precious gifts of life and health. One of my favorite affirmations is “I am grateful, God, for your precious gifts of life and health. My body has served me superbly well for many years and I am grateful.”
Especially when confronted with what may appear to be a devastating illness, it behooves us to give thanks for our precious gifts of life and health. About two years ago I was diagnosed with mid-stage kidney disease, a fairly common condition among older people. While I was initially frightened, my doctor referred me to a nephrologist with a very positive orientation. Working with this specialist and utilizing the wealth of information I retrieved online on diet and related topics from the National Kidney Foundation, together with undertaking relatively modest lifestyle changes, has allowed me to be confident that I am on top of the situation.
Love and Forgiveness
Cultivate the qualities of love and forgiveness for both those around you and yourself, and “Beyond a wholesome disciple be gentle with yourself” (Ehrmann, 1952).
Constantly seek guidance from your higher power, while giving thanks for that power’s constant loving presence, guidance, inspiration, and grounded direction in your life.
Well I could go on and on, but I am sure you get the picture. In fact, you are probably already coming up with some ideas of your own. As always, feel free to share this column with your clients and others who may benefit from the message. Until next time—to your health!
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Ehrmann, M. (1952). Desiderata. Retrieved from http://mwkworks.com/desiderata.html
Miller, E. (2005). Serenity prayer [CD]. Nevada City, CA: Dr. Miller Fulfillment Center.
Newport, J. (2004). The wellness-recovery connection: Charting your pathway to optimal health while recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
Warren, N. C. (1997). Finding contentment: When momentary happiness is just not enough. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.