I have some weird pet peeves. I bet you do, too.
(Disclaimer: these are all my own, very odd, personal opinions. They may rub you the wrong way. I’m certain that I do things that would bug you to death, too. That is why there is chocolate and vanilla!
I HATE the word…oh my gracious, I don’t even know if I can type it….p.e.e. I hate it when I hear someone say that their child is their best friend, especially when said child is a toddler. And I just don’t understand it when a couple schedules their wedding on a football game weekend. Meanest thing in the world.
But the pet peeve I will address here is this: It makes me cringe to hear someone say, “I just want to be happy.” No. No. No! You don’t want the most important person in the world (i.e., you) to “just” be happy. You want you to be content. And there is a big, fat difference.
Being happy is an emotion. It is fleeting. I can be happy over a bazillion different, tiny things. It makes me happy when I hit all of the green lights on the way to work. It makes me happy when the McRib makes its appearance at McDonald's around Thanksgiving. (I already warned you: strange proclivities over here.) It makes me happy when I see my daughter smile or when my son obeys me. It makes me happy when I get to eat a tomato sandwich--grown from someone's garden--with mayo and pepper on potato bread while enduring a sweltering, Mississippi summer day. It makes me happy when I get my hair colored. It makes me happy to get a hand-written letter in the mail. It makes me happy when Ole Miss wins a football game. It makes me happier when they win by a lot. It makes me the happiest when they beat LSU.
But do any of those things make me content? Nope. Not a one.
Contentment doesn’t come easily. It takes a long time to reach “content.” It means working through some pretty treacherous struggles, especially where marriage is concerned. I hear “I just want to be happy” assigned to a good reason to get divorced all too often. And just as I’m sure my pet peeve list stepped on some toes, I’m sure this will, also. But this is my opinion: if you are in a marriage to be happy, you shouldn’t be married. No other person in the world can make you happy all the time. Yes, some can make you downright miserable if you are trapped in a house with them, and they are a horrible, no good, very bad person. But at the same time, every one comes into marriage with oodles upon oodles of faults…including me, including you. In order to stay married, you have to learn to be content, not happy. You have to accept that you are where you need to be, even if it isn’t where you want to be all the time.
Being happy for a whole lot of moments during your marriage is a gigantic plus. If the person to whom you are married makes you light up every time he walks into a room, you must be a newlywed. ONLY KIDDING! No, if that happens, you are very, very fortunate. If she makes you laugh every single day, please count your blessings. But if you find yourself in a place in your marriage where life has become routine and you just feel like you would be “happier” somewhere else, check your priorities at the door. It is more important for you to have fleeting feelings that you can get from a great movie or having a glass of wine with your best friend or seeing a gorgeous sunset painted with God’s most surreal palate? Or could it be that there are things that you can do to escape the doldrums of a routine marriage—assailed by kids and careers and money issues and in-laws—to make yourself content?
There are many areas of life where being happy is acceptable, because they are small, short-lived parts of your world. You should be happy eating in your favorite restaurant. If the food is below par and the service dismal, you know you can go somewhere else next time, and you should. You aren’t looking for contentment from ambiance and a well-cooked filet. You are just looking for momentary happiness. A great conversation with someone you care about should make you happy. Doing something for someone else who is in need of some attention should make you happy. Seeing a butterfly light on your chair next to you while you are reading your favorite author’s newest book should make you happy. But don’t expect them to make you content.
Being content comes with work. It comes after trying on lots of different ideas and people and jobs and jumping from one station in life to another and realizing, “Yeah. I’m where I need to be. This is good for me. This is good for my children. This is good for my spouse. This is good for my community. This is something I can build on. This is something I can share with others. This is something of which I can be proud.” That doesn’t come fast, it doesn’t come easily, and it certainly doesn’t always make you happy. But when it is worth it, you know it. You feel it. You fight for it. You change what isn’t working—even if that means taking a long, hard look at yourself and realizing you aren’t actually the only person on the planet.
Did I say it isn’t easy? I’ll say it again. It isn’t easy. Did I say it was work? I’ll say it again. It is work. Did I say it was worth it? I’ll say it now. It is worth it. Yes ma’am, it certainly is.
Please, I beg you…don’t strive to be happy. You will be a miserable human being if you go through life expecting everything and everyone to make you happy all the time. Strive to be content. And if you aren’t content, take that long, yucky look at your inner-self and figure out what you can change. Then change it. Because you design your life. No one else. And if you don’t like your circumstances, it is up to no one but you to make them different. And if you don’t like your spouse—well, you may have an issue there. Just don’t look for the next one to fill up all of those places inside of you that are empty. Nothing short-term can do that. No other person can do that. That, all by itself, is your job.
Seek the difference, and see what a difference it makes.
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What have you found helps you find contentment? Share your thoughts with me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org!