Contentment is a choice

January 15th, 2013 @   -  No Comments

Ameen was at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, receiving the lowest salary. Since meeting him a few years ago, I have never heard him complain. He always greets everyone with a smile. After suffering from chronic back pain, he had to undergo surgery. Someone else in his position would have exploited the situation to draw sympathy, but he kept a good moral attitude. Rather than feeling sorry for him, people were inspired. They were all willing to contribute to support him. He was a role model for many in the organization.

Around the same time, I met one of the organization’s senior managers. He was among the highest paid employees, owned a luxury car and an extravagant house. Despite his successes, he always complained. According to him, business was never going well; he was not taking as many business trips as others, and the last annual salary increments were low.  Everything seemed to cause dissatisfaction, so he constantly wore a frown on his face.

Compare the previous two cases. Why do some people lead fulfilling lives regardless of their hardships while others feel miserable despite every advantage?

Contentment is the essential ingredient. However, where does it come from? What steps can you take to nurture your sense of contentment? If you are content, does it mean you remain passive and refrain from improving your situation? How do you reconcile between contentment and ambition?

Here are some suggestions:

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

Studies show that lack of gratitude leads to stress, unhappiness, greed, envy, job dissatisfaction and broken relationships. This happens when we fail to notice what we have and focus solely on what we do not have. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can shift this focus and positively turn your life around.   When you appreciate what you have, you will be more content.

More often than not, we choose to fixate on our hardships. We either forget or ignore that difficulties are a natural, and perhaps necessary, part of life. What’s more, we fail to consider worse situations. As the proverb goes, “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw someone with no feet.”

You always have something to be thankful for (e.g. family, employment, home and health). Urwah Ibn Al Zubayr lost his son and his leg on the same day. He thanked Allah for giving him seven children and four limbs, and taking only one of each.

Before looking up to ask Allah for more, look down and count your blessings. Allah says, “The more you thank Me, the more I give you. But if you turn unappreciative, then My retribution is severe” (Quran 14:7). Make it a habit to appreciate your blessings and thank Allah often.

Reinforce the belief that whatever happens, happens for a reason and it serves you 

During Prophet Musa’s (AS) learning journey with Khidr, they boarded a ship and the latter bore a hole through it. Taken aback, Musa (AS) angrily questioned Khidr’s action and motives. Later, Khidr explained that the boat’s damage rendered it undesirable, thus preventing its confiscation by a tyrant ruler who seized every ship by force. What initially appeared negative was actually a great blessing for the ship’s owners.

How many incidents or problems in your past looked like the hole in the ship, but upon closer reflection were blessings in disguise?  When you reinforce the belief that anything that happens beyond your control happens for a reason and it serves you, you will be more content.

The prophet (PBUH) used to make this supplication, “O Allah, make me content with Your decree, so that I may not hasten what You have delayed, or delay what You have hastened.” You know that you are content, when you feel no resentment after something has been decreed.

 Stop comparing – The grass is always greener on the other side

Growing up, were you asked, “Why don’t you excel like your classmates?” Or, “Why don’t you become like so and so?” Most of us have experienced comparisons to siblings, classmates and other children in the neighborhood. As we grow up, those experiences shape our mindset. We begin to compare ourselves to our friends, colleagues and even strangers. Most often, we focus on what they have and wish to acquire it. But chronic comparisons and competition result in constant pressure, stress and discontentment.

As parents, educators or managers, we should refrain from comparing our children, students, employees or teammates to others. Rather than causing them to feel discontented by forcing them to be a certain way, encourage them to use and excel in what Allah gave them.

While refraining from unhealthy comparisons and competition, we must vie to do more good, whether it is spending in charity, educating others, serving clients honestly or alleviating others’ suffering.

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