Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What Is The Secret To Contentment?


 
Two years ago, our family took a sabbatical from extra-curricular activities. Yes. You heard that right. From August 15, 2015 to January 4, 2016, our children participated in zero activities outside of school. No baseball. No music lessons. No activities at the church we serve.
My husband was going back to school to get his doctorate, and we were in the middle of a busy time in ministry. Staring that in the face, and wanting to protect our family time, we decided it would serve our family best to eliminate all non-mandatory commitments.

When I look back on that bit of decision-making, I remember being scared to take the plunge. It sounds silly, but “Fear Of Missing Out” is a real thing, and I suffer from it. It wasn’t that I was concerned our kids would fall behind but that we would miss out on the fun. I’m hard-wired for connection, and connection happens when get out into the world and spend time with other people.
And yet deep within my soul, I knew we were entering a hard season, and I knew it was going to take everything we had to get through it.

Baseball could wait.
Our sanity could not.

*****
Recently, I listened to a podcast about the secret to happiness. In one segment, the host interviewed a man who was conducting a science experiment on happiness, using an app to gather data.

It works like this:
App subscribers receive several texts each day, asking them to rate their happiness at that very moment.

Next, they are asked what they were doing immediately prior to receiving the text.
Then they are asked if they were thinking about something else while doing that activity.

And finally, through a series of follow-up questions, the app compares the overall happiness of people who were present in the moment with people who were mind wandering.
The results were striking.
 
The people who engaged in mind wandering were significantly less happy than those who lived in the moment, even if the people living in the moment were doing something they didn’t enjoy.

The conclusion?
Being present leads to contentment and happiness.

If this is true moment-to-moment, then might it also be true season-to-season? Might we all be more content if we assess the season we’re in, accept it for what it is, and live fully into it until the season changes?
*****
When our kids were all under the age of seven, we didn’t eat out much. I, for one, am not a big fan of paying money to eat a cold meal, and that’s precisely what happens when you take three little kids out for dinner.

Your meal is cold by the time you get to eat it.
On occasional Friday nights at home, my mind would wander, wishing for different circumstances that would allow us more freedom. Circumstances in which our kids were old enough to handle their own plates, behave at the table for extended periods of time, stay out late, and engage in stimulating dinner conversation. These mind-wandering thoughts cast a shadow over what should have been sweet nights at home with young children.

But over time, I learned to treasure Friday night pizza deliveries, movies on the playroom sofa, and game night, realizing that all too soon, memories of Friday nights at home would be fleeting.
I chose to be present in the season we were in. And my contentment increased dramatically.

The same was true for this exceptionally busy season in which my husband was returning to school and burning the candle at both ends in ministry. We could engage in “business as usual,” enrolling our kids in a slew of extra-curricular activities and die while trying, or we could acknowledge the season we were in and adapt accordingly.
After handing my FOMO over to the Lord, it was one of the sweetest fall seasons we’ve experienced as a family. Weeknights were easier, and Saturday mornings became a welcome respite after a grueling work week. Our family functioned well during a time we had anticipated to be more difficult than most.

We chose to be present in the season we were in and experienced a heightened sense of contentment and happiness.
So with school less than four weeks into session, and the sign-up opportunities coming in day after day, slow down. Take a deep breath. Pray about the season your family is in and consider how you can best adapt to thrive within your context. I’m not suggesting complacency, but rather flexibility.
 
Contentment is a choice. 
 
Resisting the waves of changing seasons can bowl us over. But riding the waves of change can lead to growth and contentment.

 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

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