It is quite common [and useful] for a person to pause to consider what s/he has attained in life. Of course, some people never stop to think on these lines.
Essentially, this question is more likely to strike those who feel they are far from meeting their aspirations or what they believe qualify as attainments.
Different things matter to you and me
If you think of it, judging self-attainments is a highly individualistic task because each of us has our own perception of what counts in life. To some, friends and family matter the most, others count the expression of their creativity—work of art or innovation—as an achievement, while for some, the accumulation of wealth is supreme.
This definition not only varies from person to person, but also from time to time for the same individual. Why’s that? Well, our desires change because of inner evolution and/or external needs. As an example, a person may achieve financial security, and realise that money is not a source of happiness, so he may then seek contentment. Or it may happen that once you establish a family life, you aspire for financial success to sustain your loved ones.
What are you running after?
Desire is an ever-spinning wheel that has us shuttling between ambition and contentment, or emptiness and fulfilment. This cycle is what modern-day human resource [HR] specialists use to spur employees to perform better.
Motivation propels ambition, which in turn, inspires a person to work harder. But the ensuing promotion is but a fleeting fulfilment, as the wheel of desire spins again.
In contrast to this short-lived satisfaction, true contentment lasts. It isn’t experienced in fits and starts. Further, momentary fulfilment does not bequeath the sense of calm that comes from inner contentment. Does this mean that ambition and true contentment are mutually exclusive, that is, one precludes the other?
Think about this: as long as you run after an ambition, you cannot enjoy and be content with what you have. Today, you may chase a salary hike; tomorrow, a larger house. If you fall into the vicious cycle of ambitions, your life will pass by in constantly chasing the next step in the ladder. So when will you live in the now? More importantly, when will you experience contentment?
Content with or within?
Some people believe that being content with the present is to waste it, as you would then not feel the need to strive for a better future. They couldn’t be more wrong. When it comes to contentment, the crux is to be able to affirmatively answer the question: Am I content with my present life situation? In doing so, you do not negate growth or shun learning. Instead, you understand that every process is meant to be enjoyed for its own sake, not for what it may [or may not] bring.
In appreciating the journey, you enhance the value of every moment of life. This is also how you find contentment. Think about it, if you can’t enjoy your present, why bother at all?
This leads us to another important aspect. It is often said that a person should be content with what he has in life. This is somewhat amusing as it discounts life completely. Why shouldn’t your contentment start with your life itself? Isn’t just being alive a miracle to be thankful for?
This stage of contentment calls for a check on your inner state. Ask yourself “Am I content within?” This suggests a deeper contentment that emanates within, not mere contentment with one’s present life situation, which implies contentment with external conditions.
Want what you have
As long as contentment is equated with what we have externally, we are likely to want more. The secret to experiencing contentment is to ‘want what you have’. Souls that have realised that the secret of attaining everything [contentment included or contentment alone?] is to desire nothing. How’s that? If you desire nothing, you accept whoever and whatever comes your way with gratitude. Also, to desire nothing is in itself to be content—you believe that you have everything you need.
Sages find contentment by concentrating their energies on experiencing the one miracle we are all part of—life. The high experienced in this state is so intoxicating that the only ambition that could possibly remain after experiencing it is to desire to constantly experience that bliss. The experience is so profound, bliss and contentment remain etched in your soul forever. It intoxicates everyone who experiences it. It is not as though one would enjoy it, and the other wouldn’t. Truly, if you must desire all, allow a connection with all of life to pave your way to experience true contentment.
Is it enough to be content within, or should you aim to share it with others? To spread contentment is to earn the blessings of those around you.
You can only share what you have. So, first, aim for inner contentment. For this, don’t believe that you were born to cross a series of milestones or accomplish some great feat. Just being born to live—that’s great in itself.
Contentment within is also not a by-product of focusing only on yourself. You’re more likely to find, and spread contentment in spending time with family and friends, fulfilling a social responsibility, or helping someone who is underprivileged.
It helps to understand that some people are naturally ambitious while others are content. Don’t berate the content sort for being laidback. They may be happy living their life at a different pace. To be slow is not to be irresponsible—it’s just a different way of living life. What is exciting to you may not be to them. Don’t rock their boat.