Monthly Archives: September 2014

Contemplating Contentment

Over the past couple of weeks, especially in our Facts of Life workshops, there have been a number of interesting discussions about contentment. Turns out it is one of those things that is hard to define but you know it when you see. Or, more accurately you know it when you experience it.
I said before that contentment occurs when we discover and accept our authentic self. This is definitely the case but a workshop participant asked “What does this have to do with the belief system you spend so much time talking about”. This is a good point. After all the belief system is implicated in so much or our misery it is only logical to wonder how it is related to our contentment.
I believe that contentment occurs when the belief system produces mostly functional emotions. This highlights the fact that contentment is itself not an emotion. It is a habit of thinking, a way of being in the world that results in more balanced and responsive emotional experience regardless of what happens to us or around us. This is also why contentment, or happiness, can sit alongside the full range of human emotions. I can feel pain, anger, joy, anxiety, passion, and all the emotions and be at the same time content.
It is when any of my emotions are dysfunctional that I lose my contentment. By definition dysfunctional emotions disconnect us from others and from ourselves. I cannot discover or appreciate my authentic self if I am disconnected from it. So, having out-of-control or dysfunctional emotions means we are not content. This is also why effective cognitive therapy must involve mindfulness.
Mindfulness in general is about contemplation and increased awareness. Cognitive therapy requires that we be somewhat contemplative. Instead of contemplating our navel, however, we need to contemplate our self. Notice the similarity of the words contemplation, and contentment. They sound related. Since I am not an etymologist I don’t know if they actually have the same root. Being a therapist, however, I firmly believe they are related in practice. We can’t have one without the other.

Is it me or is it you?

Over the past week I have had a bunch of clients who do not have a grip on fact of life #9. As astute readers you will know that fact states that “Everybody’s behavior is mostly about them, not me”. I don’t think I can overstate the importance of this. For me there is a clear choice. Either I believe that other peoples behavior is about me or I believe it is about them and has very little to do with me.

If I believe that someone else’s behavior is about me then there are all kinds of consequences. I hear statements like “…walking on eggshells…”, or “I can’t be myself”, or “…I have to make her happy…” and many more. This is a very difficult situation. It is also extremely disrespectful to the other person.

If I assume the power to make someone else angry, or sad, or anything then I have taken away their ability to maintain their own contentment. I am saying in effect that they are not competent human beings in their own right. Whether or not they collude in this process is irrelevant. The professional victims of the world are all too glad to make it someone else’s job to keep them happy and to manage their emotions. That does not mean I have to join them in this futile, dead end activity. The fact of the matter is that we are all totally responsible for our own happiness. It is the only thing we can control in life. My efforts toward happiness need to be focused on my own happiness where it can do some good not on somebody else’s happiness which is out of my control. There is one caution, as usual.

In not assuming responsibility for your happiness, or your feelings it is important to maintain some level of polite containment. That is, there are things I can say that make it easier or harder for you to maintain your boundaries and your contentment. It behooves all of us to have a basic respect for everyone. In other words there is some shit I need to keep to myself. Respect for each other’s reality and personal struggle just makes it easier on all of us.

The fact is I am my own person and you are your own person and we are both capable of maintaining our contentment in the face of whatever life throws at us. I am me and I am not you. I am also pretty sure you are not me. With this in mind there is really no way that my behavior can control your feelings or yours mine. What you does not define me. Bottom line is not to confuse ourselves.

We choose our behavior. Life chooses our consequences and we choose our response to those consequences. So my behavior and my emotional well being are all that I am responsible for. If everyone focused on this, and kept themselves happy no matter what, and was respectful of others, imagine what kind of world it would be. No depression or anxiety, no hatred, no war in short a world without misery. All of this is possible just by keeping in mind what is you and what is me.