If you're reading this and follow me on any social media platform, or have known me and had a moderately deep conversation with me in the last year, you probably know that I actively preach the concept of being content. I always say to "be content in the moment, because life is always moving up and down." It sounds so cliche. Some people I have spoken to about this have rolled their eyes at me, while others listened with an open mind. In this post, I want to address how I came up with this, dig deeper with what living a life content really means, and why it is important and can benefit anyone willing to listen.
In April and part of May last year, I was homeless for a bit. I eventually moved into my friend's house for a month, and started saving all of the money that I could from both of my full time jobs. Towards the end of May, I moved into my own apartment with my close friend at the time, and officially began "living the big girl life." I started talking to, and dating my old neighbor/friend on-and-off, and everything seemed great. I loved living on my own, my roommate and I got along really well, and I made a lot of new friends within my apartment complex, while my other friends helped us out with anything that they could (think groceries, gas money, coming over and cleaning the place, buying us things we might need around the house, etc). I mended things with my parents and they even came over for dinners and swam in the community pool a few times with me over summer. I got a promotion at one job, and quit the other one that I had. Life was great again! I wasn't homeless anymore, I had undying support from all of the people around me, and all of my relationships were strong and full of love and respect. Then June rolled around. My car broke down, I got fired from my job, I couldn't afford my part of rent/bills, and my questionable relationship with my old neighbor came to a final end. I was broke and although I had a great support system, no one could really buy me a new car or pay for everything that I needed to pay for. I began stress drinking and partying instead of handling my responsibilities. After a few days of binge drinking, I applied to numerous businesses and was hired at 2 places within the span of a week. At this point I was working two full time jobs again. My dad helped me buy a new car and I paid him back in monthly installments. Another friend of my roommate and I moved in with us so everything was a little cheaper for all of us. And one of my guy friends and I started crushing on each other, and we had a great time pretending to be just friends. Everything is great again! Then fast forward to August and I have a boyfriend and it's not an on-and-off again, half ass relationship. I was struggling financially still but could afford everything that I needed to. Everything is pretty good and then.... I got into a very serious hit and run car accident.
Do you see the pattern? Everything is great! Then it sucks. Everything is great again! And then it sucks again. Life is constantly moving up and down. I noticed this pattern in my own life and pondered why it was this way. I started thinking about how it has always been like this, and it's not just my life that is constantly fluctuating either.
I began the big girl life with goals towards happiness that I was moving forward to. Yet, it seemed like every time I reached that goal or achieved "happiness" that it ended abruptly and I had to start over again. I was treating happiness as if it were the destination on the journey of life. But after picking up on this pattern, I realized that this is not how life works. This is not how happiness works or is achieved. I needed to find a middle ground, where my expectations were not too high so that I couldn't be disappointed, but my goals were not too small to where I never moved forward. I needed to find a place in the middle where everything wasn't horrendous, but also where the great high times weren't what I was working for. This is how I decided to live a life of feeling content.
"Content" is defined as "in a state of peaceful happiness; a state of satisfaction," and a few appropriate synonyms would include "satisfied" and "gratified" (Oxford). I practiced gratefulness for the good things in my life, and was satisfied with where I was on my journey, even if I wasn't where I wanted to be or didn't have everything that I wanted. Although I had found this middle ground and was all around satisfied, I kept working towards my goals and having everything that I wanted in life. I also decided that this journey had no destination, because as soon as you get to where you want to be, life happens. And sometimes when you reach that point and life doesn't kick you down, you begin working to have more. It's crazy and ironic if you think about it, which is why I would argue that sanity and genuine gratefulness cannot be achieved unless one is satisfied with the good and the bad. There has to be a safe space in the middle. This peace, satisfaction, and grateful state of being despite what is happening around you is being content. Once you actively decide to be content with whatever direction life takes you, or with the consequences of your decisions, you will find peace. If you stop living as though life is a battle that must be won, you will realize that there is no destination. There is no finish line. The only destination we'll ever reach in our lives is death.
Now in no way, shape, or form am I saying to live life passively and still be content. If you want something, work for it! If you want to move, then move! You are still in control of your life and should still have goals that you want to reach (and you still should try to achieve them). I am only saying to live life in a state of being satisfied with where ever you are, while still actively working towards where you want to be.
Living your life with this mindset is incredibly freeing. It allows you to become more humble, and help put into perspective what is really important to you. Nothing can truly disappoint you, and all of the good doesn't get to your head. You are merely at peace. It is quite beneficial to anyone who decides to adopt this idea because it is an almost permanent peace around you. I suppose that in a sense, it allows the dust around you to settle. Living content is not easy and it's impossible to consistently think and believe these things in the same way that it is impossible to be 100% positive and happy all of the time. You'll have moments and stages in life where you are tremendously happy and it appears as though nothing can bring you down. Yet, you will also experience moments of dread, sadness, anger or anything "bad" and it seems like nothing that you can say to yourself will make you feel better or grateful. This is just life constantly rolling up and down. And that is okay. It's actually everyone's reality. Practicing living content is a way to allow inner peace in, and accept things as the way that they are.
Recently there has been an incredible self care movement. There is an enormous amount of self help books, along with various social media posts that encourage solving your problems by taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's actually quite a wonderful thing. Self love and self care are lacking in most of us, and I would argue that it is harder for millennials to grasp these than other generations before us.
The only thing that I have an issue with is the solutions that many people provide and practice. Many people preach that the way to feel better about yourself, or practice self love is to slap on a face mask, take a bath, listen to some music that you like, and magically find peace within yourself. I won't lie, I have done and do those things and does help. I'm not saying that its a bad thing to take a bath, or use a face mask, or be alone and be okay with it. All of these things are great! But... what happens after your bath water isn't warm anymore? After the 10 minutes you're supposed to take off that face mask? When your favorite playlist ends, or even worse, when you find yourself skipping every song because you don't want to listen to anything?
In moments like this for me, I feel like I am merely putting a bandaid on my self worth. I don't actually address what I don't like about myself or even attempt to work on it or accept it. I am not actually purely loving myself, and I fear that many others may feel similar, we just don't discuss it.
I started the beginning of this year in a relationship with the man of my dreams. He was absolutely wonderful, and everything I could have ever wanted or needed in a partner. I felt so secure in this relationship, because it was healthy and we were all around happy. I was content with being alone, and I often found myself preferring to be by myself because I was secure with who I was. When I got out of the shower, I would check myself out in the mirror. I started lounging around my house naked because I was comfortable with my body. I never doubted my abilities or character, and was very confident. Although I never placed my worth in him, all of this happy content-ness and love that I had for myself disappeared when we broke up. In the midst of dealing with a break up, other problems arose in my life. I hated being alone. I became the unproductive stoner. I lost all of my hope and ambitions. I stopped taking care of myself. I started to fall behind in school, I was slacking at my job, and my relationships with my friends and family started to go south. Most importantly, my relationship with myself was unhealthy. I struggled with suicidal ideation. I was full of self loathing and couldn't understand why everything in my life suddenly came crashing down all at once. In April, I began seeing a therapist. I was depressed, and as she put it, I was having a "minor existential crisis." She helped me put my emotions into words, and see my experiences from a different perspective. She helped me accept that I wasn't okay and that that was okay. I had to reach a breaking point with her before I could begin to actively make a change in my life. The most important question that she asked me was "If everything was good right now, what would you be doing?" After many mornings of letting this question boil in my brain, I began to remember my motivations and my goals. I realized that there were a lot of things that I wanted to do, and many places that I wanted to go to. I realized that, in fact, I did NOT want to die.
I began my journey of self care by talking to myself. I know that sounds crazy, but it worked. I would speak out loud and tell myself comforting words that I would tell someone else in a similar position to my own. I would hold myself and rub my head instead of crying myself to sleep. I wrote down my goals, and made a list of places I wanted to go to. I even made little positive affirmation cards and posted them in my room. I acknowledged that the lifestyle I was living was unhealthy for me, and came up with alternative ways to spend my time. I invested into this blog. I forced myself to journal, even if I wanted to rot away in my room instead. I began writing more songs and creating tracks on GarageBand. I wrote poetry. I started watching a new tv series in the name of a "new era." I ended a toxic friendship and stopped drinking. I traveled and started going out of the house to do things I enjoyed, like going to the beach or on a drive. I began taking care of my physical health. I even took a few a baths and used a few face masks.
Currently, I am still practicing self care and self love. I'm still seeing a therapist. I am constantly reminding myself of who I am. I feel as though I am going back to my roots. I even went back to church to connect with old friends and spend time with God. It wasn't until I started acknowledging that I wasn't okay, and working towards getting to a point where I was okay, that I found myself again. I put in many gruesome nights of thinking, writing, feeling, and forgiving. I actively made an effort to be better as an individual. I've found hope again. I've found a new confidence in myself that cannot be shattered.
Self care is a journey, and like almost all other journeys, there really is no destination. Rather, it's a state of being. Self love is attained through work, just like any other thing in life that is worth having. Spending time to relax is not a bad thing. Taking care of yourself is an amazing and necessary part of life. Its powerful and terrific, but it is so much deeper than a face mask.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.