Although there were still 30 minutes remaining before the lunch break would end, a handful of the first grade students already returned to class. Mrs. Thompson, their teacher, finished her lunch and was there to greet them.
“While we are waiting for the others to arrive,” she told the students, “why don’t we play the wishing game?”
“Wishing game, what’s that?” they asked.
Mrs. Thompson explained, “I will ask you, ‘If you could make one wish, what would it be?’ We’ll go around the group, and the one who makes the best wish will be the winner.”
“Okay, let’s play!” the children said in unison.
“Bobby, we’ll start with you. If you could make one wish, what would it be?”
“It’s very hot today, so I would wish for an ice cream cone.” he said smiling.
“Very good, Bobby, I would like an ice cream cone, too. How about you, Samantha; if you could make one wish, what would it be?”
“I would wish for an ice cream factory that was open all day, every day. Then I could have all the ice cream I wanted, anytime I wanted it. I could even give some to mommy and daddy.”
“That’s an interesting idea, Samantha. If you make one wish, Mary, what would it be?”
“I would wish for a million dollars. Then I would buy Walmart and go shopping every day for whatever I wanted.”
“Another interesting idea! Charlie, if you could make one wish, what would it be?”
“I would wish for three wishes! My first wish would be for an ice cream factory. My second wish would be for a million dollars. And my third wish would be for three more wishes!”
“Wow, Charlie, you made it very difficult for anyone to beat you. Danny, you are last, if you could make one wish, what would it be?”
Danny, who always seemed wise beyond his years, thought for a moment and finally saild, “I would wish to be so contented that I would have no need for wishes.”
Yes, Danny was sharing the wisdom of Saadi Shirazi “If thou covetest riches, ask not but for contentment, which is an immense treasure.” Muhammad,too, taught, “Riches are not from abundance of worldly goods, but from a contented mind.” In more recent vernacular, “Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.”
Contentment is our natural inheritance. Experiencing it is not a matter of discovering it, but uncovering it. You see, it lies buried within us, beneath the barriers we have erected. Once we remove the obstructions of our own making, all that remains is tranquility. What are the impediments to happiness that we have created? Well, they include greed, fear, anger, stress, frustration, worry, regret, and mistrust. After uncovering the calm that lies at the core of our being, we will be undisturbed by the turbulence and violence that surrounds us, for we will always be able to remain in the eye (calm) of the storm.
Our own negativity blocks the happiness and contentment buried deep within us. Once we free ourselves of our bad attitude, they will rise to the top and overflow. What are some of the harmful behaviors we need to stop? Criticism and blame immediately come to mind. When you point at others, look at your own hand and you will find that three fingers point right back at you, so stop blaming others. If you’re a legitimate victim, you have a right to seek justice, but after doing so, get over it; move on; stop complaining. “He insulted me, he cheated me, he beat me, he robbed me. Those who are free of such resentful thoughts surely find peace.” (TheDhammapada)
How shall we begin to remove our self-constructed roadblocks to contentment? Start by eliminating anger. Why is everyone so angry? Didn’t Christ tell us to forgive our enemies? How much more so should we forgive our spouse, parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, employers, and neighbors? But how can we forgive those who have been so hurtful to us? We can do so by becoming aware of three things.
First, have you forgotten that those you hold a grudge against are dying? Have you been taken in by appearances and convinced yourself that everything is permanent? Look again. Everyone you meet is on their deathbed. They are here for only the briefest moment. Knowing this, how can you be angry at them? Have you no compassion? You don’t have to be a saint to be compassionate. All you have to do is be aware. Compassion flows from awareness. Once you are aware of the facts, you cannot help but be compassionate.
Second, be aware of why those who hurt you do so. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. They are cruel to you because they are in pain. They are filled with self-doubt, insecurities, and suspicions. They are misguided, misled, and misinformed. They are fearful and lost, confused and frustrated. They hunger for recognition and approval. Granted, they may be going about it the wrong way. But their only sin is ignorance. Knowing this, how can you be angry at them?
You can only be angry at them if you are guilty of the same sin, which is ignorance or lack of awareness. This is the third point to be aware of. That is, you ARE as guilty as they are. As a fellow human being, you share the same weaknesses. In fact, your anger ‘at them’ is really the anger you feel toward yourself. You are angry at yourself because of your own cruelty. When you stop being angry at yourself, you’ll stop being angry at others. And whatever cruelty you engage in, it is not because you are ‘bad,’ but because you are unaware. So, open your eyes and let the light of wisdom fill your heart. Forgive yourself and others, and experience the peace that follows.
Once we become aware of the pain of others, we naturally progress to the stage where we wish to end their suffering. We express this desire by doing acts of kindness. Instead of hostility, we offer encouragement, wish others well, and grow magnanimous enough to delight in their successes. At this stage, we not only help others, but help ourselves by removing impediments to our own happiness, for we cannot be kind to others without dissolving our own greed, envy, jealously, and selfishness.
Another barrier we create that blocks the contentment we seek is the demand we make that the world cater to our every wish. It is a delusion to believe we are the center of the universe and its only purpose is to give us pleasure. The childish demand that everything proceed exactly as we wish inevitably leads to frustration, anguish, and disappointment. Merely to exist for the sake of pleasure is equivalent to never leaving the womb. It’s time to stop sucking our thumb and start assuming responsibility, for we have an important role to play. It is to make the world a better place. And the world, in turn, grants us experiences so that we may become better people, stronger people, more loving people. When we are aware of this, how can we not experience serenity?
A friend complained that she is no longer happy at work because everyone is so negative. She has a cause to be concerned because negativity is yet another barrier to peace of mind. But what she does not understand is that ‘they’ are not negative. The world is not negative. Any negativity, if it exists at all, exists in one’s own mind. It is one’s own creation. It is a judgment we choose to make. My friend’s coworkers are merely people, but she has decided to insert an adjective and describe them as ‘negative’ people. If she insists on using a label, she would be wiser to describe them as ‘misunderstood’, for she misunderstands the cause of their occasional ruthlessness. Why does my friend insist on revealing how much pain she experiences while forgetting about the pain of others? Can you see how the cause of all our suffering is lack of awareness?
Buddha reveals a major barrier to peace of mind when he tells us to eliminate desire. And here’s how the same idea is expressed in the Bhagavad-Gita, which was written before the birth of Buddha, “He knows peace who has forgotten desire.” Those who fail to receive the object of their desire often experience anger, resentment, or frustration. Or if they do get it, they may then experience the fear of losing it. Or they may quickly tire of it and want another object, for how can we satisfy an insatiable appetite? When we endlessly chase after things, we become beggars. But when we appreciate the little we have, we become rich. True tranquility of spirit comes from the awareness that the source of contentment lies not in what we have, but in what we are.
When we replace the love of power with the power of love, we will have made giant strides in achieving both inner and outer peace. Frederick Buechner articulately described the power of love as follows, “Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality — not as we expect it to be but as it is — is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.”
Tips & Caveats
1. Can we be contented all the time? Some say no, for we have an innate desire to improve ourselves and the world, and isn’t the desire to change a sign that we are discontent? Yes, says Francis Quarles, who wrote, “Be always displeased at what thou art, if thou desire to attain to what thou art not; for where thou hast pleased thyself, there thou abidest.” In a similar vein, James Mackintosh wrote, “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.”
Although it may be a small point, I believe we can always be contented, despite a desire to change, for when we unreservedly accept life, we accept our human nature as well. And it is our nature to wish to change for the better, not because we are unhappy, but because we look forward to growing even happier.
2. The surest way to remain contented is to appreciate what we already have. We already have the greatest gift of all: LIFE.
3. A major impediment to contentment is stress; so, I’ve included in my list of referencesRoy Masters` book, Cure Stress. I’ve also included a link to his Cure Stress Device (under the Audio section). Finally, I added links in the Video section to his famous Be Still and Know meditation, which is used by the U.S. Army to treat PTSD.
4. Get in the habit of looking for what is good about your situation and you will find it, and remain contented.
5. True animal lovers get pets not because they want to be loved, but because they are brimming over with love and want to give it away. Oddly enough, the more we give it away, the more we receive. Practice this principle with your family, friends, and acquaintances, and you will always be contented.
6. Find a cause greater than yourself that you can play a role in. It will give meaning to your life and make it worthwhile living. If you would be contented, be caring, compassionate, and concerned.
7. Some lose their contentment by comparing themselves to others; they grow unhappy or envious because others appear to be more fortunate. First of all, although others may appear to be better off, you cannot read their hearts and are unaware of their problems. But if you must compare yourself to others, compare how much better off you are and be thankful.
I started out by quoting Benjamin Franklin, and now I will wrap up with his words, “Content makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.”
Rich or poor, which do you choose to be?
HARDWIRING HAPPINESS: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidenceby Rick Hanson
BEYOND HAPPINESS: The Zen Way to True Contentmentby Ezra Bayda
ENOUGH ALREADY: The Power of Radical Contentmentby Alan Cohen
CURE STRESS: How Your Mind Will Make You Well by Roy Masters
Free eBook:20 Simple Tips to Be Happy Now
Cure Stress Device