A few years ago I was watching 19 Kids and Counting (or maybe they were only at 18 kids back then), when I heard one of the Duggar daughters say something that perplexed me. It went like this:
Jinger, Jill and Jessa are discussing their ideal mates, when it comes up that Jinger hopes to marry someone who will move away with her, out of their small, Arkansas town.
Of course, the Duggars are deeply religious, and sister Jill reminds Jinger that God has a plan for her.
“If you didn’t get somebody like that the Lord can be working and teaching you something in that area.”
Jinger agrees with her and says, “Yes that’s for sure; I need to work on my contentment!”
I nearly got whiplash.
Did she just say she needs to work on her contentment?! What the what?!
See, I had always operated with the understanding that we seek out, and work for, things that will make us happy. If we’re not absolutely in love – FULFILLED – with our situations, we should take immediate action. I believed, like I think many others do, that life is too short to waste feeling unsatisfied.
But what if we are setting ourselves up? Doomed to always feel like we want and deserve more. Questioning whether we are happy enough. Maybe there is fault in programming people to expect life to be one giant orgasm.
These days I’m trying on a different outlook – taking a page out of Jinger’s book, and working on my contentment, my happiness.
As Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard describes, our control over the outer world is limited, temporary and illusory; it is our mind that translates this outer world into happiness or suffering. Happiness, he says, should not be confused with pleasure. Pleasure is contingent on time, object, place… However, happiness is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment that pervades and underlies all emotional states.
So how do we nurture the inner conditions for happiness? According to Ricard, by training our mind.
I could change jobs, have another baby, move to another city… but I’d take my same head and heart (and all the inner anxieties/sufferings) with me. I’m beginning to appreciate that my happiness is an effort, and a choice.