The Secret of Contentment to Unlock a Lifetime of Joy

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The Secret of Contentment to Unlock a Lifetime of Joy

By:  Rick Fannin

The Secret of Contentment to Unlock a Lifetime of Joy

Happiness fades, but contentment brings joy that will last a lifetime.  The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book chapter, The Doctors Opinion, describes how alcoholics are "restless, irritable, and discontented unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks" [1, p. xxiv].  The same could be said for those of us who struggle with drug addiction, pornography, shopping, or food addiction as well.

At the heart of human well-being is a peaceful emotion, contentment, which is a key component in overall satisfaction with life [2].  Unlocking the secret of contentment helps you to unlock the secret of a joyous life in recovery.  Why is contentment in recovery important?  Why are some people content with so little, while others are miserable with so much? How do you find the secret of contentment which unlocks a joy that will last a lifetime?

What is Contentment?

Cambridge dictionary defines contentment as "happiness and satisfaction, often because you have everything you need." A key thing to notice is that it is based upon having everything you need and not having everything you want.  A Yale University study examined the ways that we attempt to find happiness, and they found there are two core strategies: More and Enough [2].

The first is the "More Strategy," where we try to find more money, more power, more stuff, more validation, and more success for the world outside of us to be content with who and what we are.  We are chasing after more of what we want.  They indeed found that when we get more of this "stuff," it does make us happy, but as soon as we get it, the happiness begins to diminish, and we again start to search for more.

The second strategy is the "Enough Strategy," where our attention is directed inward to find joy already inside us.  This joy comes from being content, as it is a state of "unconditional wholeness" regardless of external events.  We are content with having everything we need and not consumed with chasing after everything we want.

Many of our emotions are based upon our internal filter and evaluations of external events; they are reactions to the outside world.  Contentment, on the other hand, requires no external worldly input and is rooted within us.  Instead of seeking an external source of happiness, often out of our control, contentment, which is found from within, offers incredible power and stability.

We have a basic psychological human need for integrating all of the complex and rich information in our worldview into a holistic, meaningful narrative [2].  If we are able to construct this meaningful narrative, we feel content, complete, and whole.  However, when we reject the present experiences, thoughts of incompleteness arise, causing prolonged emotional suffering [2].  For example, going through a breakup can challenge our sense of completeness due to thought patterns such as "I am not loved," "I am not worthy," and "I am not good enough." The skills of learning to take captive every thought and correct distorted thinking patterns, live in the present moment, radically accept the truth about current circumstances, and tapping into Spirituality allow you to be content with who you are as your worth is found within and not contingent upon external circumstances.  You have contentment with who you are, and your peace and joy are not dependent upon another person, perchance, or another external source.

My Search for Contentment

Socrates once said, "He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have." I don't know about you, but for me, my life of addiction was fueled by the fact that enough was never enough.  Truth be told, I always felt like I was not enough.  I was on this constant and unending quest for more in hopes that it might soothe and fill the pain and emptiness that I had inside.  It was at the pit of yet another rock bottom moment, crying out to God three times to take my struggles away, where I learned that His grace is all that I need.  His power works best in my in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

An old proverb says, "To be content with little is hard; to be content with much is impossible." With wealth comes great responsibility.  Looking back over my life, I can now see that when I had everything, nothing really mattered to me; when I had nothing, suddenly, all the right things started to matter to me again.  I realize that I was not a good steward of the things that God had blessed me with in life.  I was not grateful for what I had, and I wasn't content that I was enough because my motives were wrong, and my actions were not aligned with God.

Until you make peace with who you are, you will never be content with what you have.   Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity." Ego, fear, and false pride were my enemies.  C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that "For pride is spiritual cancer:  It eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense" [1].

One of the biggest barriers to joy is undervaluing what you have and overvaluing with others have.  I bought into the ego-driven lies that I needed to have more, and achieve more, to feel better about myself.  I again started to chase after more of the wrong things instead of chasing after more of God, the only great thing that has been or will ever be.

Once I finally discovered that the only thing that could fill the God-shaped hole inside of me was God, then I was finally content.  A harvest of peace is produced from a seed of contentment.   Contentment equates to an internal stillness of the heart and mind because humbly submitting to God in all circumstances.

Contentment in life is not a feeling; it is a decision we must make and an action that we must take.  Learn to be content with what you have while never being complacent about doing what it takes to maintain a fit spiritual connection with God.  A surrender to God each morning, with my third step prayer, followed by living my day relieved from the bondage of self by acting in a manner that is aligned with God's will and his word equal's great joy, serenity, and contentment in my life.

Hebrews 13: 5 says, "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He, Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you." Contentment is a natural Spiritual wealth that is not dependent upon the balance in your checking account. It is not dependent upon your circumstances; it depends upon your actions being Spiritually aligned. True joy comes from gaining insight, self-awareness, staying present, Spiritual wisdom, gratitude for what you have, and knowing that you have put forth your best effort to grow into the best possible version of yourself with your actions aligned with God, and not driven from self-centered motives.

The Science of Contentment and Addiction

There are many pathways that we find ourselves struggling with addiction.  These include biological, genetic, environmental, social, and spiritual factors.  Research suggests that our struggles with contentment share similar pathways as addiction.

Early childhood experiences profoundly impact many aspects of well-being, including attachment security and locus of control.  Research shows the many with addiction struggle with attachment insecurity and struggles to feel like they belong.  Everyone has a deep yearning to belong, in some form or the other.  You know that the quality of your relationships impacts your feelings of contentment and happiness.

Research also shows that these early childhood experiences impact locus of control and individuals who struggle with addiction tend to have an external locus of control.  Research suggests that individuals with an external locus of control tend to have poorer relationships, struggle with assertiveness, are more easily influenced, have lower self-esteem, greater anxiety, depression, mental health difficulties, and report a lower life satisfaction and contentment [3] and emotional instability [4], as compared to individuals with an internal locus of control [3].

Research shows that individuals with high levels of emotional stability can remain calm, relaxed, feel safe, self-contented, deliberate, unenvious, strong-minded, and objective [4].   Self-hate and anger towards self and others can be psychologically corrosive.  Individuals that struggle with addiction often also struggle with emotional stability have a poor self-image, and may have deep resentments towards themselves or others.  The act of forgiveness of self and others and the practice of loving-kindness reduces self-hate and increases the positive emotions of love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, peace, interest, amusement, and awe [5].

Opiates produce a powerful and rush accompanied by feelings of contentment [2].  This high is because these drugs bind to endorphin receptor sites in the brain's pleasure centers [2].  However, this high only provides short-term pleasure, and to feel content again, we must get high again.

This pursuit of short-term pleasure can interfere with building a life of stable happiness and contentment [5].  Always seeking things that make us feel different or better right this minute can at times get in the way of building permanent positive events into our lives [5], and a positive evaluation of self. Sometimes we seek a pleasant event to avoid working on long-term goals that will make permanent changes in our lives.  If there are lacking permanent positive events in our lives, pleasant feelings will probably be temporary rather than long-lasting.

Living in accordance with your core values often produces feelings of contentment [6], as does finding meaning and life purpose.  Building a life worth living takes time and patience, but the benefits and pleasure can last a lifetime [5].  Permanent positive events are related to the following:

  • Living our lives according to our own personal values.
  • Achieving goals that are important to us.
  • Developing lasting and loving interpersonal relationships.

The 12-step model of recovery suggests that our ability to recover from drugs or alcohol is dependent upon experiencing a spiritual transcendence. Research on Spiritual transcendence identified three dimensions of transcendence that include prayer fulfillment (joy and contentment resulting from prayer), universality (unity and purpose in life), and connectedness (personal responsibility to others) [7].

Our painful past can have a life-long impact on our lives and leave us feeling empty, unloved, unworthy, and incomplete.  The pursuit of a quick fix to our internal struggles is short-lived and problematic.  Finding internal self-worth, free from distorted thoughts, values, and beliefs about self and others, and living a life of integrity based upon core values are key factors in finding long-term contentment and joy from living a meaningful life.

The Secret to Christian Peace Found from Contentment

While at a faith-based rehab center in Kentucky, I can still remember Pastor Shawn saying that "I have never seen a U-Haul following a hearse." So often, we search for happiness in all of the wrong places.  We look to find it in our jobs, purchases, hobbies, vacations, or from our addictive and compulsive behaviors.  Peace and contentment cannot be purchased. It can only be experienced in a fulfilling life in relationship with, and aligned with God, as seen in the verse below:

"For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content." 1 Timothy 6:7-8

"But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment."1 Timothy 6:6

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil."Proverbs 19:23

"Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it."Proverbs 15:16

The story of Jesus and the woman at the well describes the only thing that will make us content, and long-term satisfaction is an encounter and a relationship with Jesus Christ, as seen in the verse below.

Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.   A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."  The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock."  Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water." – John 4:6-15

The secret of Christian peace that can be found from contentment is not a secret.  This secret is hidden in plain sight throughout the Bible and is available to anyone willing to know God's word and believe God's truth. God does not merely want you to know about this secret to peace, which is found through contentment, but he wants you to experience this peace that passes all understanding.  Jesus described the kind of experience that He wants us to have:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. . . . Your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you." (Luke 12:2230–31)

Paul exemplified living a life of contentment. In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul writes:

"Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."

God is complete, for He is "the Alpha and the Omega the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" He is "the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; the Almighty One" – Revelation 1:8.  As Christians, we have an internal sense of completeness and contentment with who we are when we know God, His Word, and when we abide in His word with our actions.  We also know our Joy comes from pleasing our Heavenly Father and is not upon pleasing others of finding a quick fix of happiness which is found within the world.  When we abide in Him, He abides in us.  Therefore, if God is perfectly complete and we abide in him, then He abides in us, then we are content with who we are and feel whole and complete.  Whatever is going on around us is insignificant due to the significance of what is going on within us.  This is perfectly illustrated in John chapter 15, as shown below.

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you[bwill ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Love and Joy Perfected

"As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.

"These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.

"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'

"But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning."

Don't settle for a cheap substitute and the quick fix that happiness found within the world will give you.  Sure, it may give you a moment of temporary happiness, but you are left thirsting for more and more.  The only true satisfaction, peace, joy, and contentment come from living a life that is aligned with God's word.  Anything else is just a cheap substitute for the Real Thing!

Tips For Finding Contentment That Leads to Long-Term Joy, Peace, and Serenity

Instead of striving for a cheap substitute for temporary happiness, we can settle into a sustainable sense of contentment that nobody can take away from us, and nobody can give to us, either.  This source of power is already inside of us, and it just takes a little practice to begin experiencing it for ourselves.

There are many great practices that help you cultivate contentment, and they're all surprisingly simple. Many are backed by hundreds of scientific studies and proven effective, and they require no fancy equipment. These strategies are highly sustainable and can bring massive benefits for little cost.  The return on investing in Spiritual contentment lasts beyond a lifetime; the benefits last and eternity.

Prayer & Meditation

Praying is talking to God.  Meditation is being still and listening to God.  Include frequent and regular prayer and meditation into your daily routine.

Begin each morning offering yourself to God and asking him to build you and do with you as He would please.  Ask Him to relieve you of the bondage of self as you go about your day so that you may be of maximum service to Him and others.

During the day, if you are struggling, then talk to God about it.  Ask for His will to be done in the situation.  Ask God to give you the words to say to best handle a stressful situation or for Him to direct your actions.  Trust that God hears your prayers by taking the time to meditate and listen for the quiet, still little whisper of a voice inside of you, which helps you to intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle you.

At the end of the day, pray to God, giving Him thanks for the day and expressing your gratitude for all that He blessed you with.  Cast any remaining fears and worries of the day on Him, and sleep well knowing that He will provide for your tomorrow as He always has been faithful to care for you.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present moment. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.  When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them, good or bad.

The true source of many of our negative emotions is not found in the present moment.  They are rooted in either painful events of the past or in anxiety and fear about events in the future.  We can only experience peace in the present moment.  And the more that we can remain present, the more of God's presence that we can experience.  Where God exists, evil must flee. Staying in God's presence by remaining present allows many of your evil and negative emotions to flee.  You are left being content with God and surrounded by his unending protection, comfort, and love.

Take Captive Every Thought

By being mindful, it provides you with a distanced perspective of your thoughts.  This helps you take captive any untrue and dysfunctional thoughts that can contribute to negative emotions and discontentment.  Always remember that when we put on the full armor of God, the first piece of equipment that we put on is the belt of truth, God's truth.

If we believe that we are unloved, unworthy, all alone, and that no one is ever there for us, we will certainly feel discontented.  However, the belt of truth, from God's amour, we know that we are never alone and that there is nothing that could ever separate us from God's love.  Take captive any of the flaming arrows of lies from the Evil one, toss these evil untruths aside, and with bold but humble confidence know that God is with you, you are loved, and you are blessed.  Start to see yourself as God sees you helps clean up with other dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts about yourself.

Radical Acceptance

Many of the negative emotions that we experience are when the reality of life does not match our expectations of life.   We cannot change what we do not first accept.  Radical acceptance is about accepting the truth, the reality of life, and the reality of a situation or emotion you are experiencing.

Acceptance is not an invitation to do nothing, to use as an excuse to give up on changing things.  It is about acknowledging and accepting the truth.  Grasping this concept will help you realize that acceptance is the answer to all of your problems today.

Until you accept a situation, you are powerless over it.  However, once you radically accept the truth about a situation, you begin to gain the power needed to change things.  After you accept things, you must then ask yourself,
"What am I going to do about it?" When we stop denying or wallowing in the problem, we may finally begin living in the answer, and the problem will disappear.

Utilize the Serenity Prayer and ask for God's wisdom to help you accept your emotions about the things that you cannot change and give you the courage to stop wallowing in emotions so that you can change the things that you can.

Know God's Word

It is hard to be content with a life that is separate from God.  However, it is difficult to feel close to God when we hardly even know him.  Build and strengthen your relationship with God by getting to know God, by reading and meditating upon His Word.  The Bible is your instruction manual and troubleshooting guide so that you can live a joyous, peaceful, and contentment in living a meaningful life, with a passion and purpose of pleasing God.

We see everything from our point of view; a selfish, self-centered, ego-centric perspective.  God sees us, our problems, and our future from a very different perspective, an eternal perspective.  As you begin to really study and know God's word, it will help you shift from a self-perspective to begin to see yourself, others, situations, and your future, from a Spiritual perspective.

For example, when I am upset because something did not go my way, my go-to verse is Romans 8:28 where it reminds me that "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose." This helps to remind me, and I can be content that it is OK, even when it doesn't feel OK.  I know that I love God and that God loves me, and this verse reminds me that everything works out for good.  It doesn't mean that everything goes my way or makes me happy; everything works for good.  This helps me connect the dots to past examples where pain, heartbreak, failure, or mistakes by me or others may have been painful, but great wisdom was gained, I grew and Spiritually matured, and often it led me to something even better.

Live a Meaningful Life

One of the best ways to have contentment in your life is to live a life of passion, meaning, and purpose.  Do your best at whatever you do, and everything you do, do it as if you are serving the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).  The emptiness and feelings that something is incomplete in our lives come when we are out of alignment with God's word in the way we live our lives.

When you live your life when your motives and behaviors are aligned with the wisdom found in God's word, then you are abiding in God.  As seen above in John chapter 15, when we abide in God by honoring his word with our motives and actions, then God abides in us.  And, as shown above, in Revelations 1-8, God is complete, He is everything, and if He is abiding in us, and we are abiding in him, then we finally feel whole and complete.  This leads to great contentment in life.

Living this manner of living shifts from doing things that please us to doing things that please the Lord. When Jesus was asked what the greatest of commandments are, he replied Luke 10:27-28 "You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this, and you will live!" This kind of way of living is a manner that provides a great deal of contentment.  Love and service to God and others become our way of life, which then provides a great deal of purpose and meaning to our lives as we serve a much greater purpose.

Keep the End in Mind

Indeed, while living a Christian life leads to great contentment, joy, peace, and serenity, it isn't a pain-free life.  Do not become so consumed with the problems of this life that you lose sight of the bigger picture.  Always keep the eternal end in mind.  Keeping your eyes on Jesus and your place in Heaven for eternity helps you see your day-to-day problems from a totally different perspective.  These problems start to become significantly insignificant.

What you focus on amplifies.  Focusing on your day-to-day problems will amplify the thoughts and emotions, like fear and worry about everyday issues.  However, there is no fear when your eyes are focused on Jesus.  Look at Peter as an example of this Biblical truth.  Peter was standing outside of the boat and walking on water toward Jesus; he was doing the impossible.  However, when Peter shifted his focus from Jesus to the sea, "he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sing." Just keep your focus on Jesus, and keep in mind the bigger eternal and Spiritual perspective, and suddenly the problems of today become relatively trivial.

References

[1] A. Anonymous, The Story of How Many Thoughts of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous Work Services, Inc. , 2001.
[2] D. Cordaro, M. Brackett, L. Glass and C. Anderson, "Contentment: Perceived completeness across cultures and traditions," Review of General Psychology, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 221-235, 2016.
[3] C. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952.
[4] S. Nowicki, S. Gregory, Y. Iles-Caven, G. Ellis and J. Golding, "Early home-life antecedents of children's locus of control," Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, no. 2032, pp. 1-12, 2018.
[5] Y. Chiang, W. Fang, U. Kaplan and E. Ng, "Locus of control: The mediation effect between emotional stability and pro-environmental behavior," Sustainability, vol. 11, no. 820, pp. 1-14, 2019.
[6] M. Linehan, DBT Training Skills Manual, 2nd ed., New York, NY: Gilford Press, 2015.
[7] K. Wormer and D. Davis, Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective, 4th ed., Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2018.
[8] D. Tirch, L. Silberstein-Tirch, R. Codd III, M. Brock and M. Wright, Experiencng ACT from the Inside Out: A Self-Practice/Self-Reflection Workbook for Therapist, New York, NY: Gilford Press, 2019.
[9] T. MacMillan and A. Sisselman-Borgia, "New Directions in Treatment, Education, and Outreach for Mental Health and Addiction,," Advances in Mental Health and Addiction, pp. 175-188, 2018.

 

 

 

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