In Philippians chapter 4 Paul makes an interesting statement about contentment. He says, “Not that I speak in regarding to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” What makes this statement so interesting is the word learned. Paul had to learn how to be content. If contentment needs to be learned that means it is not a natural occurring phenomenon within the human heart.
What is naturally occurring in our hearts? Comparison. As a species, we have a nasty habit of constantly comparing ourselves to others. Comparing our looks, comparing our wealth, comparing her relationships, the list goes on and on. Comparison causes two things. First, it causes us to focus on what we don’t have. Second, it causes negativity in our hearts and minds. We see what were lacking in life and we get upset about it. Being upset could look like greed, it could look like depression, it could look like self-judgment, and it could look like general dissatisfaction.
Instead of giving in to the desire to compare we need to do is learn to be content. How do you do that? Through acceptance and thankfulness.
Let’s talk about acceptance for a bit. At its heart, acceptance is coming to peace with the reality that you find yourself in. Whenever you feel anything negative towards your situation it’s because of an emotional resistance to your reality. What does that mean? It means that instead of dealing with what is, you stress and fret and fume that your situation isn’t different.
But, as the Borg on Star Trek say, “Resistance is futile.” No amount of frustration, depression, or any other type of negativity has the ability to change reality. The only thing it changes is your experience of reality — it gives you a bad one. Here’s a powerful thought can change a life if you grab a hold: you will never be able to control your reality but you can always control your experience of reality. What I mean by that is that your life from time to time will take drastic and unexpected turns that you are powerless to do anything about. But, regardless where life takes you you’re always in control of how you respond. If you resist the reality you find yourself in your life will be filled with negativity, but if you accept the reality of your circumstances then you can experience something totally different.
Acceptance won’t change your circumstances but it will change your capacity to deal with them. If you’re flooded with negativity you will respond to your circumstances in a negative way. A great example of this is to people stuck in traffic on the freeway. One person resists reality and becomes frustrated and impatient. Their commute home is “ruined.” The other person accepts that they’ll be in traffic longer than they expect and instead of getting emotionally hijacked, they put on their favorite worship music and spend the time connecting with the Lord.
Contrary to popular belief, life does not have to be perfect for you to be thankful. Even in the hardest most difficult situations, there are still things to be thankful for.
You may not have much money in the bank, but do you have something to eat? You might not live in a good neighborhood, but are you living on the streets? You might not like how you look, but can you walk?
There is always this one phrase my mom would say when she saw someone that was down on their luck, injured, or deficient in some way. She would say, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” I find myself repeating that quote from time to time. It helps me remember that no matter how tough my life gets there people out there who live much harder lives than I do and God’s grace that I don’t have to go through what they are going through.
You really have a lot to be thankful for.
So, how do you overcome comparison in embrace contentment? Acceptance and thankfulness. Acceptance keeps you from focusing on what you don’t have and thankfulness keeps you focused on what you do have.
But to be content, like Paul, you need to teach yourself (learn) how to stay in a place of acceptance and thankfulness. How do you do that? I’m so glad you asked… Here’s one exercise that you can practice every day that will help reprogram your comparison mindset into a contented mindset. Every day, list out five things that you’re thankful for, but here’s the challenge: Don’t repeat anything for two weeks. So, if on day one you think God for your family don’t think him for your family again until two weeks passes. What this will do is make you dig deep and really think about all the things in your life that you have to be thankful for.