I’ve written about contentment a lot in the 8 years I’ve been blogging, and whenever I write about or talk about contentment/optimism/looking at the bright side, someone always chimes in by pointing out that viewing the world through cheerful lenses is unrealistic.
Being contented and grateful just isn’t realistic when there’s pain in everyone’s lives, they say. How can you think everything is sunshine and roses??*
*which isn’t what I’m saying anyway.
It IS unequivocally true that there’s pain in everyone’s lives.
There’s pain in my life and in your life and in the lives of everyone you know. And it will always be that way, as long as we live on this earth.
But you know what? Almost no one needs help figuring that out. We are born with a propensity for noticing the pain/inequity/misery in our lives. It’s like our built-in lenses are pre-focused for laser sharp pain vision.
So, I waste very little energy worrying that people will somehow miss the boat and forget to see all the things that are wrong with their lives.
We humans are pretty good at that kind of realism.
But here’s the problem.
While we’re good at seeing our pain, we tend to be fairly awful at seeing the positive things that are going on in our lives, even though there’s almost always something to be grateful for.
We DO have difficulty looking at our lives realistically, but it’s not because we are looking too hard at our blessings…it’s because we’re not looking hard enough at them!
If there are four things going wrong in your life, you will undoubtedly notice those.
But if there are four other positive things happening in your life, there’s no guarantee you’ll see those.
And if all you have eyes for are the things going wrong, then you will feel like your life is going down the tubes indeed.
But I would argue that’s not a realistic way of looking at your life. What’s realistic is opening your eyes to the positive things as well as the negative things.
That’s why I harp on looking for the positive, and making lists of things to be thankful for, and keeping an eye out for blessings. We don’t have to work to see our pain, but we do have to work to see our blessings.
And I’ve found that even in the hardest times of my life, there has ALWAYS been something to be thankful for…some small bright side, some little blessing, some kindness. I just have to look a little harder for it.
For instance, the summer I got pregnant with Zoe was not a marvelous time in our lives.
That pregnancy was most unexpected, it came at a time when we’d just bought a smelly (dog! cigarette smoke! All the terrible things for a nauseous person!) fixer-upper house and were in the midst of moving, we were kind of financially strapped because some things went wonky with the house purchase, I was too sick to work on the house at all, I barely was able to keep teaching piano lessons, and I had three small kids to care for.
(after the very worst was over)
But, I remember journaling a list of things I could still be grateful for.
At least I’d gotten a lot of packing done before I got sick.
Family helped us finish packing and got us moved.
My church family brought meals for my family to eat.
The Zofran was keeping me out of the hospital.
Pregnancy sickness isn’t contagious, and it has a definite end point (9 months and done.)
Family and friends helped Mr. FG with some of the more urgent house projects.
(I know my trials that summer are fairly small in comparison to what some of you have been through. But for me, it was a very challenging time and I had to make an effort to see things to be grateful for.)
Now, all of this can go horribly wrong when we’re not minding our own business. Most people won’t take kindly to it if they pour out their pain to you and you blithely point out all the great things going on in their lives. People need sympathy and validation when they’re feeling down, and you should probably only venture to point out their blessings if you have a close relationship with them.
(And even then it’s wise to tread lightly.)
But when it comes to you? Well, your state of contentment or lack thereof is totally your business, so you can feel free to be as grateful as you want.
For instance, a few years ago, a flu/cold-like bug hit our house. I got it first, so I was on the mend by the time my kids all went down.
I was really thankful I got it first instead of at the same time, because then I was well enough to take care of my kids, and I didn’t have to worry about catching what they had either, which makes the job way easier.
But if Mr. FG goes down first one time, I’m not going to cheerfully point out how wonderful it is that he won’t have to worry about catching the bug as it works through our family.
Somehow, that line of thinking becomes way more obnoxious when you try to force it on someone else.
I’m all about being realistic when we look at our lives, but being realistic involves a lot more optimism and looking-at-the-bright-side than we might expect.
And looking just as hard at our blessings as we do at our trials will usually result in a more cheerful, contented attitude, even if nothing changes except our perspective.
It’s kind of like magic…magical, optimistic realism.
P.S. Lest you think otherwise, please know that I am not perfectly contented, and I don’t always look at the bright side. But. When I’m feeling down and I do manage to count my blessings and look at the bright side, it never fails to make me feel better.