I have been pondering on the word contentment as of late. Why? You might well ask. Well I can’t exactly pinpoint where it began or if I kind of wandered into that territory. It all has to do with this: we are so busy ‘getting’ and ‘obtaining’ possession, rank and notoriety in this world. Mostly I have noticed friends moving and they are moving ‘up’ as the world terms it. They are moving to bigger and better houses or building the house of their dreams in more desirable neighborhoods. I can’t say I blame them. If I were in a financially secure position to do that I might follow there lead. Or I might not. You see there might just be something I value more than having a big house with a big mortgage attached to it and me for the rest of my life. I might just value my freedom to travel more than a big house. A big house might lure me like a carrot but really would that give me contentment? Would I feel like I was happy?
A few years ago we moved into our little house of 1000 sq ft. Oh we were excited! Oh we were delighted to not be homeless, to have a roof over our heads (now that’s another story). The walls needed priming and fixing, doors needed replacing, new toilets needed installing, second hand appliances needed buying, flooring needed to be ripped out. We did what we could with the allowance we had but it wasn’t enough. So we went without kitchen and bathroom flooring. Bare concrete showed between the carpet remnants. But that was okay. It was okay because of where we had been a few months previous. We couldn’t afford a place to live so we had taken shelter with friends. We had fallen on hard times. Now my Dad had bought this house for us to live in until I could get back on my feet and pay him back.
Fast forward a few years and I am feeling like the house is too small. We need a bigger place. We need nicer furniture. Wait a minute, what just happened here? Before we were ecstatic we had a beat up house with broken windows. Now we are in our winter of discontent? You get the picture. Maybe you have experienced this too.
And why does this matter at all? Well this train of thought got me thinking about my grandparents and what I know and remember about their lives. I know they lived simply. They never owned their home, they rented. They never owned a car, they walked and took the bus. I can’t honestly remember seeing a t.v. in their homes although there might have been one. This tells me if there was one, their lives didn’t revolve around it. My grandfathers were always dressed in their suits and my grandmas always in dresses or skirts. Food was homemade and simple. They probably wore the same things day in and day out and ate the same meals over and over. But they were happy. They lived in the moment. They had time for me. Grandad gardened and read the newspaper. His wife made the best flaky pastry and killed wasps with her bare hands. Pompa sat me on his lap and told me stories of fighting in a big hole in a war which I later learned referred to fighting in the trenches in WW1. Nana had a green thumb and grew house plants, violets in particular. After Pompa passed away she took up knitting. She had teeth that came out at night. She passed many hours sitting at her folded solid wood table, staring out the window at the passing cars. Both sets of grandparents had chamber pots under their beds even though they now lived with indoor plumbing. They lived through two world wars and were resourceful and resilient. They overcame personal tragedies and hardship yet I never remember them sad, long faced, downcast or sullen. In fact the opposite. They always had a smile, a hug, a story and time for me.
It seems to me that my grandparents had mastered the art of contentment. Pompa was a tailer, Grandad was a clerk at the local steel factory. They both lost a child to death. Grandad lost his father when he was only two years old. Later he lost his wife to cancer leaving him with a ten year old boy and a teenage girl to raise. Grandad remarried and life carried on because that’s what you did. You lived each day, were grateful for what you had and tried to treat one another kindly.
Is it okay to be content with what we have in this material world? Or should we let the winter of our discontent spur us on to greater and better things? Do we weigh our choices carefully? Or do we follow the crowd aimlessly? Well it seems to me that learning the art of contentment worked for my grandparents. Maybe I can take a lesson from that life and be content with where I am at, who I am and what I have and treasure this moment. Truth be told, I do believe contentment is a door to happiness