Contentment: The Precursor of Gratitude

Anticipating Thanksgiving this year has felt a lot like anticipating Christmas as a kid. Growing up, Thanksgiving was cool and all with no school, lots of food, getting away with eating double the dessert that mom would normally let me have but still, Christmas was unrivaled.

So with the anticipation of the next day building, my husband was working late, I couldn't imagine anything better than a quiet night at home with a glass of dark red wine, beginning to prepare for our meal with my family the next day.  As I stood in my kitchen last night with our black lab laying, Lady, at my feet, the smell of garlic and onion sautéing in the cast iron skillet filling the air while rhythmically chopping artichoke hearts, I felt a stillness in my soul.

It was the kind of stillness that is intentional and cultivated. It wasn’t a fleeting feeling but rather a deeply grounded sense of contentment as I looked up from the cutting board outside to there the branches and leaves were rustling in the wind.

This year foundational something in me has shifted . My husband and I have joked this past year about me being an old lady and him being an old man. We have our own routines, we like to rise early and work during the daylight hours. We’d be happy eating dinner at 5pm, reading for an hour and then being asleep by 8pm every night. But it’s more than simply feeling old.

There was a franticness I remember feeling in our first few years of marriage is absent. I was always going and doing, reaching and trying, running and hustling. But I never reached a point of rest, there was never a finish line per se because there was always the next thing.

This year what has shifted in my soul I can only name as contentment. I don’t feel this reflexive urge to keep working and striving for more and more and more. We’re ok, right where we are, just as we are.

In the contentment of being where we are, as we are, this past year, gratitude has grown in our hearts and established itself in a way we have never know before because contentment is the precursor of gratitude.

When we’re too busy looking around at everyone else lives, taking note of what they have that we don’t, gratitude will continue to elude us.

But when we shift our eyes from the perceived abundance of others and take account of the many may blessings that have been lavished upon us, there is only space in our hearts for overwhelming contentment and overflowing gratitude.

Nothing destroys contentment like comparison and when contentment is absent in our hearts, gratitude cannot take root.

On days like today it is easy to be content and grateful. Most of us will sit around beautifully set tables next to the ones we love most dearly in this life. There will be an abundance of food, laughter and story telling. There may be twinges of grief that pull on our hearts but as we will recount our many blessings, family, friends, jobs, homes, children etc. our hearts will swell with joy and emotion, thinking there is not possibly anything more that we could ask for in this life.

Today there will be the fullness of joy and gratitude that overflows abundantly.

But tomorrow will come and for many of us it will be back to the grind. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I’ll peel ourselves out of bed. The to-do list and agenda will still be waiting. The nearly 100-year-old hardwood floors in our house will still creak as we walk across them and I’ll have to jiggle the front door knob just right to get it to lock when I leave. The electric and water bill will still be waiting on the kitchen table right where I left them yesterday.

And I will be thankful.

I will be thankful because over the years, with practice, contentment has taken root in my heart, paving the way for gratitude to grow abundantly.

The words penned by Horatio G. Spafford after losing a sizable portion of his state, his son and four daughters within a matter of a few years, speaks not only of his unshakable faith but of his contentment and gratitude in all circumstances;

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.

This Thanksgiving and going forward, whatever our lot, whatever our circumstances, let us abound with contentment and in gratitude.