Three days of solitude among the majestic mountains around Trout Lake, Colorado overwhelmed me with beauty -- quiet hiking trails complete with vistas that took my breath away leaving me silenced. The tranquility of the vast mountain lake captured my mind and all mindless chatter ceased. This is contentment. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish Scientist of the 1800s, tells us, “Contentment is the only real wealth.” Trout Lake contentment in the middle of real world chaos appears unattainable. All it takes is some powerful intention.
To cultivate contentment we need to be willing to forgive. I know this is not where you were expecting to start. Forgiveness is two-sided: letting go and moving forward. There is a releasing of the old and a creating anew. Grieve the hurt, the loss, the trauma. Let go of the blame. Honor the moment of loss. Acknowledge who you are becoming. Cut the ties to the past. Use our energy in new ways. Find compassion. Create new patterns. As we practice forgiveness, choosing to forgive ourselves becomes a priority. Nothing robs us of contentment more than choosing not to forgive. It’s a process that is well worth the effort.
Often we find ourselves content until we compare ourselves to others. We see they have something we do not. They appear happier, healthier, more successful, more financially stable, more influential, more . . . Our minds begin to focus on what we don’t have compared to what (it appears) they do have. Immediately we are discontent. Cultivating a posture of gratitude restores contentment in the wake of comparison. Oprah Winfrey is fond of saying, "If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.” Practicing gratitude re-focuses our mind on all the things in our world that are good.
Use Goals, Don’t let Them Use You
Pushing ourselves to grow and develop requires us to set goals, expect more, and push beyond our current circumstances. This creates a tension between the idea of contentment and dreaming big. Letting our goals guide us but not hold us hostage is a key to contentment. Goals are simply targets. When I first tried archery in school, anytime I hit the target I celebrated (and so did everyone else). A bull’s eye was not necessary. Hitting the target was a significant accomplishment. Rather than using goals in a way that leave us discontent with ourselves and our world, using goals as a guide toward a great target will reduce the tension between dreaming big and choosing contentment.
Stepping into contentment requires intention on our part. It will take time and consistency, support and encouragement. As we choose forgiveness, practice gratitude, and allow goals to simply guide us, we will see contentment begin to mushroom in our world. I still recommend Trout Lake and, at the same time, I know we can tap into the wealth of contentment without ever leaving town.