While counseling a friend recently through a struggle—deep discontentment over a lack of feedback on a project she’s put years of effort into—the question arose of what would truly make her happy in this scenario. She could name five people who liked her project. Deep down, she wanted everyone to love it. Another friend asked her what would realistically be enough to make her happy.
There was no answer to that question. The silence itself struck a chord in me and opened the doors to a revelation I’m continuing to wrestle with:
She didn’t answer because there is no answer. Because if you can’t be content with what you have now, you will not truly be content with anything.
It will never be enough.
The 2017 movie musical “The Greatest Showman” tackles one man’s journey from squalor to splendor, and the realization that no matter how high he climbs, no matter what accolades he receives, he continues to feel empty. He goes from pursuing common favor to chasing the elites of New York society, then the applause of the nation at large…but in the end, hollowness and loss force him to come face-to-face with the fact that he had everything he needed from the start: a loving family.
I love this journey. I love it because it brought me face-to-face with the truth that if we aren’t thankful for what we have, we will never fill the hole in our hearts.
This is not to say that everyone is in ideal circumstances always, but I would like to suggest that we can find things to be thankful for even in less-than-ideal places. Even if it’s just the breath in your lungs and the clothes on your back and the opportunity to try again tomorrow, that can be enough.
People often think that if they “just had” the perfect job, the perfect relationship, the perfect house, THEN they would be happy. Then they would feel fulfilled. If they had x-amount of followers on social media, if they became head pastor of a church, if they found Mr. or Mrs. Right, contentment would be achieved. Until they have those things, and the hole’s not filled. Suddenly they’re left wondering if they had a nicer car, a corner office, kids, pets, an ever nicer house…
You get the picture.
Joy is Right Now, Not Right After
Here’s the thing. Contentment and true joy are not found in achieving success. They’re found in spite of success or failure. They’re found in being thankful for what you have right here and now, not in what you could have someday. If your happiness hinges on an outcome, it’s not really happiness. It’s a pinging synapse across the lobe of your brain, and once it fizzles out, discontentment will flood back in. You will want the next big thing to make you happy. And the next. And the next. You can actually wire your brain to constantly chase after the Next Big Thing, running after a horizon that’s constantly moving away from you.
Slow down. Stop. Look around you.
You can find contentment in what you have right now. Give thanks for what’s already there. It’s not bad to have goals. It’s bad to hang your entire outlook on them, though. It’s unwise to pin contentment to the notion of a certain outcome rather than learning to live in gratefulness with what God has already given you. It’s healthy to find contentment and peace in every step of life, because you never know how long you’ll be standing there before the next one.
Happiness in an achievement is fleeting. Thankfulness for God’s provision is eternal.
Shift your perspective. Give your eyes a rest from that horizon and bring the closer things into focus. Tally up the things you’re thankful for right here and now. It’s amazing how much contentment can be found right where we are.