Recently, on a sunny Saturday morning, we were kayaking out on the river our neighborhood borders.
There were so many reasons to be happy and/or thankful.
- The weather was beautiful.
- We have free water access in our own neighborhood.
- Neighbors let us borrow their kayak so we could both go (we only had one at the time).
- We have bodies that are healthy enough to allow us to go out and kayak.
- Our kids are old enough to mind themselves while we go do things like this.
So, you would have thought that I would have been feeling seriously joyful.
(and I certainly expected to feel joyful!)
But as we paddled along, my heart was filled with discontentment.
What I discovered is that in all the years that we’ve walked around our neighborhood, we’ve basically been seeing the backside of all the waterfront houses.
When you get down in the water, though, you see the really beautiful side of all the homes.
Large decks, lovely walkways down to the water, expansive windows covering the whole water-facing side of the home, beautiful docks, boat after boat after boat…when I look at that, it can be really, really hard not to compare and come up short.
(I live in a 1970s-era split foyer on a land-locked lot and I paddle a kayak. That’s not quite the same as a waterfront, modern home with a boat!)
I couldn’t help but think about what it must be like to wake up in bedroom that overlooks the sparkling water, with a beautifully landscaped yard, in a home cleaned by somebody else.
(Not everyone in our neighborhood lives like that, but we walk enough to see landscapers and cleaners arriving at waterfront homes.)
From the water, it’s easy to gaze at that and think, “The lives of those people must be so much better than mine. If I lived there, I’d be so much happier. If I lived that person’s life, I’d be so much happier.”
The thing is, I cerebrally know this isn’t true.
I’ve heard many stories of dazzlingly rich people who are very unhappy. And there are plenty of rich people whose lives are full of problems.
Still, I look at those riches from the water, and somehow, I think they mean freedom from stress and problems.
(Sometimes often my feelings really do not make any sense.)
I’m not going to tell you that I conquered my unpleasant feelings entirely that morning (just writing this post brought a lot of those same feelings flooding back!), but I’ll list what I try to tell myself when discontent threatens to take over.
1. Happiness is an inside job
No one and no thing outside of me is going to bring me happiness.
We know this is true because people who are rich and famous are not unilaterally happy. And there are plenty of people who are joyful even though their lives are not full of riches and ease.
Happiness and joy have more to do with my own heart than with anything outside of me.
Plus, my heart is gonna come with me wherever I go, wherever I live, and it’ll be there no matter how much money I have.
Wherever I go, there I am. I bring contentment or discontent with me.
2. Where I am is not an accident
This one is explicitly related to my faith, so it may not be applicable for you if you believe everything in life happens by chance.
I believe that God led me to where I am in life for a reason. My home, my income level, and my difficulties…all of that is for my good, for my growth, or to help me help others.
(I mean, I certainly would not be here, typing on a blog about frugality without having lived through lean financial times!)
When I remember that I do trust God to move me where I’m supposed to be, I feel much more contented about where I am.
3. There are lots of people who would love to have my life
Someone who is homeless would dearly love to have a 1970s split foyer.
Someone with a chronic illness would dearly love to have my healthy body.
Someone who is going hungry would be massively grateful to have the food in my home.
And goodness, even my past self would be quite grateful to own the kayak my present self owns.
When I make an effort to see my life through someone else’s eyes (or through my past self’s eyes), I get a much more accurate picture of how much I can be grateful for.
4. No one’s life is problem free
Despite what Instagram feeds tell us, there is not a person on earth whose life is totally smooth sailing.
Everyone faces difficulties of some sort; personal problems, relationship problems, financial problems, parenting problems, health problems…the list of possibilities is endless.
To be jealous of someone’s seemingly problem-free life is to be jealous of something that does. not. exist.
No one in this broken world has the unbroken life we all long for, and adjusting my expectations accordingly is helpful.
Typing the first part of this post dipped me right into those discontented feelings, but typing the last part set me right again.
And that is exactly why I have to keep talking to myself instead of just listening to myself.