Thursday, April 1, 2010

Learn to Be Content

Con·tent (kn-tnt) adj.
Desiring no more than what one has; satisfied.

How many of us have ever contemplated just being content?

I know we search for happiness, but do we ever embrace simply being content?

Probably not. I know I don't.

One of my favorite books of all times is Joy In the Morning, written by Betty Smith (You may know her from her book, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.) A very simple read. But a good one. In one part, new husband, Carl, asks his new bride, Annie, if she is happy:

"Happy?" he asked.
"When are you going to start being happy?"
"Oh, I was happy this morning when I got off of the train and saw you. But now I'm contented."
"What's the difference between happiness and contentment, wiseguy?"
"Well, happy is like when somebody gives you a big hunk of something wonderful and it's too big to hold. So you pull off a piece from time to time and hold it in your hand. That's being contented."

I loved that. Don't you?

We are always searching for more. Wanting the latest, the biggest, the best. But it always lets us down somehow. It is never quite enough. Something is always out there that could make us happier, we just know it.

But it isn't. And I think we know that, too.

As you know, I take care of the people who are now out of time. And over and over again I hear the same thing.

I never realized I had it all already.
I never really paid attention to what I had.
I didn't hug my children enough. (That is a whole other topic for discussion on another day)
I never appreciated all they had given me.
I always thought there was some elusive thing I was missing.
I was never content with what I had.

So, I am making more of an effort to really be content. With who I am and what I have. Mostly, that list includes my family, my health, my home, my pets, my job, my friends, my ability to walk or run and to eat great food and to drink great wine (on occasion). And to read great books, too. I love that.

I may still want that lovely bag at Bloomingdale's, but it will only make me happy for a few days, and so I have to accept that. Happiness is elusive and has shining moments, but can fade quickly. And I have to ask myself, who I am really buying that bag for? I may not like the answer so much.

But being content can last a lifetime. And make us less stressed. We can let go of the need to have it all. I guess there really is no "all" anyway.

I have seen many people end up in just a small room at our hospice house. They are there to die, but we try to help them to be comfortable by allowing them to decorate the room with anything they want. Most want comforting things that they love; besides family of course, they may bring in a book that they love, pictures of family, certain pieces of art, cozy blankets, special tea they love to drink, a pretty cup and saucer to drink it from. Some bring in pets, some musical instruments. Some bring plants or flowers or special treats like chocolate if they can tolerate it or some other thing that they had been denying themselves for too long. One man smoked cigar after cigar. He was VERY content at the end because he had denied himself this pleasure for a very long time.

No one brings a laptop, a cell phone, or a fancy purse from Bloomingdale's. (I know) They do not worry about certain people anymore and ask us to not allow certain visitors that they have tolerated over the years, but never really liked.

"They always made me feel bad about who I am. Why I ever put up with that, I will never know."

They can no longer drive, but a car can still be very important to many, especially vintage cars and much talk is centered around their care after death. (Yes, really. More than you can imagine). Some things do make us very content. But if we really boiled it down, it would be just a few things. All the other stuff makes us crazy instead.

They usually do not care about the big house, or much of what is in it.

"I should have let that go years ago but felt I needed it. What would people have thought?" I hear that a lot.

And it is so amazing to me. With so little, I have seen so much contentment. Not happiness, because this is not a happy time. But they are content. They are finally free to just enjoy what they love. Who they are.

When we are living our lives through someone else's eyes and desires, we can never be content.

When we decide to live on our own terms, it is amazing how little we need. We shed the facade of a life we have been hiding behind. So many tell me they did not become their own person until the diagnosis of cancer. The realization that their life was truly their own allowed them to be free to be themselves, finally. They realized, this is it. This is who I am. This is where life has lead me and it hasn't been that bad at all. I hate to leave it. And sometimes they don't die. They get better. I wonder if finally finding contentment helped.

I guess many of us will never understand that until the end. But if we can take one piece of what they know and run with it, we could have more contented days. I am sure of it.

And that is what life is all about anyway. Days.

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