As I type away to you this afternoon, I’m standing at the edge of a gorgeous, glossy infinity pool staring out over a powdery blue horizon.
I can see mountains in the distance wrapping around the ocean’s edge in delicate transparencies like a layered watercolor painting. I can see the occasional jubilant kayaker or boater dancing across the water below. It’s a magical view to take in, and it leaves me feeling happy, content, and whole.
For a moment.
THEN, on the tail end of that moment comes a different feeling. It’s not as strong as the joy, but it’s there nonetheless, like a faint residue that follows my contentment.
One moment I’m taking in the beauty and the joy of that moment — I’m thinking to myself, “Can it get any better than this?” — and the next I can’t help but feel a slight pang of guilt. Guilt about being away from my business and the responsibility I feel to the Made Vibrant community. Guilt over spending my morning blissfully floating in an infinity pool and my lunch hour laughing in the warm, delightfully salty sea. As weird as this sounds: guilt over being this happy.
It’s not an overwhelming feeling or a gray cloud that hangs over the whole experience; it’s just a subtle sidekick to satisfaction that whispers softly to me in moments of joy.
It whispers thing like:
>> Do I even deserve this?
>> Now what? What’s the next milestone to achieve? Shouldn’t I be working toward that?
>> This feels weird. I’m not used to THIS kind of happy.
This week, I want to dive deeper into this idea of satisfaction. I want to better understand my own contentment, the residual guilt it can bring, and I want us all to bring more intention to how we experience contentment in our lives so that we can more fully enjoy these magical moments when they unfold.
First, let’s start by laying the groundwork: Is contentment even important?
I mean, isn’t the goal of living a vibrant life predicated on the idea that we’re always striving to be better, to grow and expand our minds, to live more authentically? Doesn’t the idea of being satisfied conflict with the idea of becoming better?
The simple-yet-confusing answer is yes — I think there will always be tension between the desire for contentment and the desire for growth. I will always want to be better and do better; it’s a part of my striver DNA. BUT I also know that contentment will always be an inextricable part of joy and happiness.
In fact, the very definition of joy acknowledges a lack of wanting more. (Joy is defined as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying;”) Part of experiencing pure joy is experiencing contentment — this feeling of not needing anything more than what you have in that moment.
The happiest times I can remember in my life were the moments where I felt a completion in my life, a wholeness, a “lack of lacking”, if you will.
And so I’m starting to realize that a happy life for me is one where I’m balancing my moments of growth with moments of untainted contentment.
I know we’re not all off on Mexican vacations all the time, but at some point (I hope) we all experience some moments of happiness, joy and accomplishment. We get the promotion, the launch goes well, the day is delightful, the family is healthy, or we get the project we’ve been working so hard for.
My question this week is: how do we learn to savor those moments unapologetically? How do we stretch out the positive effects of those feelings beyond just a moment and avoid the residue of contentment?
To answer that, it might help to understand what prevents us from sinking more deeply into contentment. Here are just two that come to mind for me:
Let’s be honest, most of us are probably not used to getting what we want all the time. We’re used to “the hustle,” right? We’re used to striving, to struggling a bit, to working towards our goals. So when we arrive at a moment that feels less like a climb and more like a destination, it feels a bit uncomfortable simply because it’s uncharted territory. If I know anything about humans, it’s that we’re wired to avoid discomfort. That’s why I think in moments of satisfaction or accomplishment or true joy, it’s our human instinct to say “Whoa, this feels weird. I better get busy working on the next thing because that’s what I’m used to.”
This is the one I mentioned before and it’s a doozie for me. I grew up in a family where work ethic was instilled in us from a young age. If you want good things to happen, you have to work hard. (And certainly that’s true.) However, when you come to place such a high value on hard work, inadvertently I think you become suspicious of ease. You begin to feel like you should always be working. You should always be striving. That means taking time to lean into that ease or satisfaction feels like the wrong thing, something that others might judge you for.
As I type out these two "contentment blocks," one thing immediately stands out to me: they’re both different forms of fear.
Researcher and author, Dr. Brené Brown, says joy and fear are often two sides of the same coin (an observation that has always stuck with me.) To experience joy is also in turn to fear that it will be taken away.
So, what’s the solution then? How do we overcome the residual discomfort and guilt that often accompanies moments of joy and satisfaction?
(And… to bring it back around… how can I make sure that when I look out across the expansive horizon of this gorgeous place that I allow myself to be fully present with my contentment?)
From everything I’ve experienced or read, I think we do it by cultivating a practice of gratitude and self-worth.
Again, going back to the work of Brené Brown, in a blog post titled “What I’ve learned about gratitude and fear” Brené writes:
Gratitude is how we sink into joy.
Rather than letting the whispers of guilt or discomfort or fear steal the moment from us, we acknowledge our own contentment. We say to ourselves, “This moment feels whole, this experience feels good, and I’m grateful for it.” On top of that, I also think it’s important that we write those feelings down. The longer we can make them last, the more we can return to them on a regular basis and the less foreign they will feel when they arise.
Beyond voicing our gratitude in moments of contentment, we also need to find a way to battle the feeling that we don’t deserve to feel so happy. We do! We are all inherently worthy of love and worthy of happiness. I don’t think we’re on this planet to suffer; we’re here to find joy and laughter and beauty. So, we have to find ways to remind ourselves on a regular basis that it’s okay to feel those things. In many ways, it’s the whole point. From today on, I’m giving myself permission to also write down why I deserve good things to happen to me, and I hope you’ll consider doing the same thing. It may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but I think changing some of those recurring messages we tell ourselves about our worth is critical to increasing our tolerance for contentment.
So, this week I challenge you to not only identify your moments of contentment, but to sink into them by practicing gratitude and self-worth.
Take a moment to write down those moments, to be grateful for them, and to remind yourself why you’re deserving of good things.
And, to those of you who may still be in those seasons of struggle, those times when contentment or joy feel less abundant, keep pressing on and keep your eyes open. I think this topic is equally important for you so that when those valleys pass and the peaks emerge again, you’ll be ready to cherish and appreciate them even more.