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How to be more content: Look for the good

So, today’s the first official installment in our contentment series! Today’s post and the following two will be about ways that you can be intentional about growing in contentment. I feel very strongly that contentment is not something you can sit around and wait for.

I know that sounds like such an obvious thing to say, but I think we often fall into that kind of thinking without even noticing it. Have you ever thought something like this?

“When the kids are out of diapers, then I’ll be content.”
“When my husband gets a better job, then I’ll be content.”
“If we could just move to a different area, I’d be happy.”
“When we’re out of debt, then I’ll be content.”
“When we have a bigger house, I’ll be content.”
“If only I had clothes like my friend.”
“I just want a little more breathing room in our budget.”

When we think thoughts like this, we’re pinning our hopes for being content and happy on some thing or some event or some change.

Who knows? Maybe some of that change we long for will come into our lives. If it doesn’t, though (or if it takes a long time!) some contentment skills will come in very handy.

I am certainly not immune to thinking that my discontent is tied to some sort of lack in my life. To keep this nice and real, here’s a list of things I can easily be discontent about. I know that many of you face challenges which far exceed mine (you’ll probably read this list and wonder what is wrong with me!), but these are my honest temptations.

-my house (I hate split-foyers and I hate floors plans which are not open)
-my church (We’ve had some difficulties there, which is to be expected, as no church is perfect!)
-my van (it had a leaking problem, which makes it smell not so great, it doesn’t have storage like the new vans do)
-my children (love them to pieces, but they are definitely not perfect!)
-my husband (see above. And he could say the same about me!)
-my skills (there are better photographers, better pianists, better bloggers, better everything!)
-the difficulty I have in maintaining a clean house (homeschooling is wonderful, but having children home all day every day doesn’t exactly help keep things clean)
working (I especially struggled with this when my kids were babies and I had to spend time away from them teaching piano)
-Mr. FG’s work schedule

If I sat here long enough, I could think of more. I should probably stop, though, because pondering unhappy things in my life isn’t terribly helpful.

So, what do I do when I get down about these things?

Most times, by the grace of God, I look for the good, and I try to focus on that instead of on the bad.

There are some situations where it’d be pretty difficult to find anything good (the oppressive situations many people in other countries face come to mind), but for me and probably for most of you, this is not the case. If we try hard enough, we can probably find something to be grateful for!

Here are a few examples of how this plays out for me.

My house

I hate split-foyers and I don’t like how closed my floor plan is, and I doubt that will ever change. But, I love the neighborhood we live in. The towering oak trees, the wide streets, the space between houses, the pier at the end of the road…I purposely think about that instead of about our house being a split foyer. Also, I like the fact that we have a yard. I can grow things, my kids have a swing-set, and they can play in the yard. Plus, our house is within a very short driving distance of grocery stores, thrift stores, my bank, my music store, the library, and several produce stands.

My van

Sure, it would be lovely to have a new van with more space and a nicer smell (we have cleaned the carpet and Febrezed it, by the way!). But there are good things about my van…it’s paid for (that’s the best kind of car to have!), it’s reliable (we’ve only had one non-maintenance issue with it and it’s got over 100,000 miles on it now), it’s got space for all six of us, plus room for one extra person, it gets good gas mileage, especially for a van, and it’s black (I’d much rather have that than some sort of really loud or really dated color).

My husband/children

I’m sure you know that when you live with people, their flaws become glaring. If I don’t make an effort to the contrary, I can start to see only the flaws in my family, and that’s a recipe for discontent.

When I purpose to see the good in my husband and children, though, my attitude changes. Yes, Sonia and Zoe fight a lot, but they are getting better at playing together. Yes, Zoe can be awfully high maintenance, but she is hilarious. Yes, Joshua sometimes has difficulty being kind to his sisters, but he’s generally a thoughtful guy. Mr. FG doesn’t always do everything the way I want him to (hard to believe, I know 😉 ), but there are many things he does well (you can read about them in my anniversary post).

Mr. FG’s work schedule

Mr. FG has had some very unpleasant work schedules over the years, and his current one is kind of bad (we’ve had much worse, though!). We go to bed at 8:00-8:30 pm, and get up at 4:40 am, and since he works Tuesday-Saturday, we have to do this even on Friday nights, which means we miss out on some fun activities then and during the week. His schedule also makes it hard to carve out time for just the two of us because the kids are always up while he’s home.

On the upsides, though, he has a job, which is a huge blessing. And the early schedule does give me time to blog before the kids get up. Mondays off are weird, but at least we homeschool and so we can all be off on Mondays. And if we want to do something together as a family, Monday is a good day…nothing is crowded on Mondays!

Working

I know some moms really enjoy having a career and they find it to be fulfilling, but I never, ever wanted to be a working mom. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. But, our financial circumstances have always made it necessary for me to work part-time, mostly in the form of teaching piano. This has definitely tempted me to be discontent over the years, mostly because of the time this takes away from my kids.

There are things to be grateful for here too. I’ve been able to teach at home, set my hours mostly as I wish, and keep my kids at home (the moms of my students have always watched my kids). I’ve been able to work at something I love (music), doing something I think is important, and I’ve been able to provide some necessary income. And more recently, I’ve been able to cut back my teaching hours significantly and that has made more time for mothering and homeschooling.

Hopefully that gives you a bit of an idea of how this works in my life…I could flesh out more of these, but my children want some breakfast. 😉

Does it work?

The idea of looking for the good is so simple, but so hard to consistently apply. It takes real mental work to shift your focus from the negative to the positive, from the bad to the good. But based on how I see this working out in my life and my children’s lives, I really do believe that it is effective.

In fact, just as I was typing the section about working, I saw this in action. I felt a little bit bummed out after writing the first paragraph, but after I finished the second one, I no longer felt that way.

I see it working in my children too. Recently, Sonia went through a phase where whenever anything went wrong in her life, she’d fall into the depths of despair and declare, “This is a hooooorible day!!”, or “I hate this day!”.

To help her quit this habit, I had her immediately sit down wherever she was and think of 3 things to be grateful for. It was amazing to see the transformation come over her as she counted her blessings…as she thought of the first blessing, her frown persisted, but usually by the time she got to the 3rd blessing, her bad attitude was gone. And amazingly enough, after some time she stopped making horrible day declarations altogether.

Looking for the good is definitely not the only way that I deal with my temptations to discontent…there are two other really important tools in my contentment toolbox, and I’ll share those with you in the next two weeks.

Read part two of this series.

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Today’s 365 post: Maybe we’re turning a corner…

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Amy

Monday 12th of March 2012

sunshine, gave me your link. I was in the discontented boat last week and she sent me your blog. Thank you for talking; although it is far more thereputic for me to be in person! I wish I could find someone here in KY to pull and lift me up when I'm stuck in the mud. I also homeschool 4 youngens. Thank you agian for helping me see some light; sometimes the mud is so thick i'm going to die! Amy

akshata

Tuesday 18th of January 2011

Great great post!!!! I too feel very discontented because I too am a stay at home mom with my only son busy with college studies and so also my hubby with his work. I feel useless and frustrated sometimes but your post has made me think and think positively about my situation.... THANKS FOR YOUR WORDS..AND INSPIRATION

Brandon

Tuesday 11th of January 2011

Read the work thing about Mr. FG..........I have to be to work at 5AM 5 days a week, and have the same days off. Sunday and Monday, so I definitely share your pain! I know exactly what you are talking missing out on Friday night fun. But I have come to embrace my schedule. It takes some adjusting and planning, but I make it work. I am grateful for a full time job. I like having a weekend day and a weekday off. I have been reading your blog for a year or two and totally enjoy it, though I rarely comment.

Aparna

Monday 11th of October 2010

I read this post and realised how much I am missing in life. Recently we have shifted to a 3 bedroom apartment and are in the middle of arranging it. And do not seem content at present. Also, I always preferred a cottage home. But had to opt for an apartment , for convenience sake. But after reading your post, I decided to be happy and go ahead with a smile in life. Thanks !

Diane

Friday 8th of October 2010

Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I had a disagreement yesterday that led to an argument. "Hopeless; it's all hopeless," was my attitude until I saw the news last night of Peace Corps volunteers and their living conditions. It dawned on me, as I was getting ready for bed, I have a toilet to flush instead of a latrine; the light switch turns the light on, instead of darkness; if I'm cold, I turn on the heat; if I'm hot, the a/c is available at the flip of a switch. We have a car that is paid for; my husband has a good, steady job. Our refrigerator is bursting at the seams after my monthly grocery shopping. I could go on and on about material things. But I am also so grateful for my family,my two daughters and one son; my eight grandchildren (four of whom live within 2 miles of me); my husband who is the model of patience (most of the time). My church family, and especially my God, who loves me with an everlasting love - even though He knows me well, warts and all! Thank you so much for your post. We need reminding....

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