Here I am “talking psychology” again.
Whenever I moan or listen to a moaner in these days of lockdown, I’m reminded of so many things. And between the moaners and myself, we have moaned a lot lately. Isn’t it funny “how things get you down” and you find yourself moaning? At that point in time, your moan almost helps you face the day and find perspective again. Are you moaning more than usual? It really is quite normal, you know, in times like these. So, give yourself a little break. Too much of anything is a bad though.
What do we moan about? Most of it is the present at this stage in the game. Limited freedom, too much TV and its news, all kinds of issues about government, and then there’s your spouse or the kids, and, of course, no ciggies or the cost of those “on the dark side”. Lots to moan about and even to worry about in the future as well. Has the Rand peaked out and when will it strengthen and by how much? Will Eskom keep the lights on? Will it appropriate its new increase to paying off its debt or just “waste the money”? Again! And that DG of WHO who purportedly cosied up to China who owns Africa in the latest conspiracy theory….on and on, my moaning justified by where I’m at, and all those nasty things happening to me…
But then there’s a thing called Contentment. Without Googling it, it’s that feeling we get when we have enough. Or, maybe it was a decision to accept that we have enough. In our modern world, enough is never enough – you’re getting “old” when finally, you come to the reality that maybe there is no more, and this is it. You have a nestegg and it’s about as big as its ever going to be. Maybe it’s not financial, maybe it’s emotional; the day you look in the mirror and decide “I’m okay”, in fact, I’m getting to like you. Self-acceptance slowly begins to overtake comparison. Perhaps it’s the day you realise you have peaked out in your career and whatever else you desired “at the top” has been reached and you watch some whizzkid overtake you…and you’re prepared to mentor her… Contentment is seldom sought after. It’s not glitzy, it’s not competitive, it’s not fashionable; in fact, it’s easier to see ambition and corporate ladder climbing than contentment.
Contentment, like character, is often refined in a crucible. Adversity, like we’re experiencing in this unprecedented way, can be the yeast of contentment. So, yes, we may moan and feel better for it, but until we realise this is not going away and it’s going to be okay, we will never enjoy contentment. I’m tuned in to a few friends who are my beacons in this time. Some have “lost it” and nothing makes them happy. We should jump to Level 2 immediately to avoid a bloodbath but if we did that, then why not just chuck Levels out and let’s get working again. Like a Trump moment. Others are philosophical – what will be will be. They rationalize the time they’re spending with the kids and enjoying watching them enjoy themselves and this too will pass and then we can go on a little break and spend some time walking the beach. Others are grateful the golf course has opened, and they can even play a four-ball again. Others are encouraging, humourous, and supportive. Recognise yourself in this splay of human reactions and thinking. I can see where I fit in.
But if we are ever are going to approach Contentment, then there will need to be a combination of thought and emotion. You see, contentment is learned; it comes naturally to very few of us. It is propagated by adversity. When everything is going well and you’re earning six-digit commission and the banks are saying “Yes” all the time and relationships are strawberry fields and puffy clouds….who needs contentment when it’s all so rosy? In those times, I am just content. But ruffle my feathers and annoy me and my contentment vanishes to be replaced by…well…lockdown ☹
It’s the very thing that takes away your sense of contentment that becomes the obvious thing to overcome in order to be content. I feel like writing that again. Let’s say you don’t believe me or that you think I’m being “holier than thou”. In your wisdom, you then throw in a tablespoon full of Worry. Now you’re on a roll…South Africa is on the brink. And if you think I’m staging this, I believe Dawie Roodt told Jeremy Maggs that this morning; my source is solid. Now your contentment isn’t, and your worry is.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Daniel Goleman, the father of Emotional Intelligence [EI] speaks to this moment as follows:
The brain has two memory systems, one for ordinary facts and one for emotionally charged ones. Strong emotion can create neural static, sabotaging the ability of the prefrontal lobe to maintain working memory. That is why when we are emotionally upset, we say we “just can’t think straight”. Despite their intact intelligence, people in this state can make disastrous choices.
We’ve spoken about the prefrontal cortex [PFC] before. It’s about a credit card size right behind your forehead. It is the “stage” of all thinking. All the time you’re cognizant, thoughts, stimuli, reactions, actions and responses are flying through your head. They are like actors on the stage in the PFC and they enter and leave in nanoseconds sometimes. When worry predominates, these thoughts are always clouded and tainted by the latest piece of worrisome news. It becomes the centrepiece of our thinking and exhausts us. Think of not being paid last month, just having had a fight with the kids, closed schools and the need to earn a living – nothing trivial but all-consuming. No joke, many of us have been there recently.
What a far cry from contentment! Alan Knott-Craig speaks about “Hope as a strategy”. His recent podcast is great to listen to as he talks about our last few weeks. Dominated by corona and lockdown and maybe even some infections close to us, we often ponder if this will ever go away. Hope is not some vague “feel-good” in his message. It is the emotion, the sense of being, that lifts our eyes and our spirits time and time again. The execution of Hope gets us going in the morning with an attitude of gratitude. “But I’m so out of control”, you say, “I feel powerless.” You may be but there are always things within your control even if they are just the way you chose to view a situation or little things for which you’re grateful.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t,” says Steven Maraboli.
I’m so glad I saw this quote and began to internalize its meaning for me a few months before lockdown. Little did I know that in a few months my world would be turned upside down with potentially doing nothing. Out of its meaning for me, I allowed myself to understand what control had been taken from me – no travel, no physical touch, no shops beyond food, Hermanus Provincial hospital theatres shut-down for disinfecting, the Western Cape a COVID epicenter, etc – but then I decided on what I could control and my journey began. So much I can control mainly on the inside – my emotions, my attitude to health, physical wellbeing, my garden, my family’s sense of being, health and relationships, overcoming frustration and not “fetching” the future which I just cannot control.
When do you say, “I don’t know,” and it sounds okay? Do you really have to know everything…all the time? Suddenly it dawns on you that others may be in a far worse place than you are, and you mobilize to help as much as you can. Hope begins as a seedling and with a little compassion and empathy, becomes an action that makes a significant difference to someone. Someone else gets hope because you dared to hope a little yourself. Maybe, just maybe, in all that outward-focused activity, a little contentment creeps into your life.
Here are some closing thoughts. Contentment swells when you:
- Believe you have something to add and begin to share.
- Listen to your words, curtail extremes and speak kindly to others.
- Do something – gardening, soup kitchen, donating, house-cleaning, studying.
- Stay healthy. Make your facemask your fashion accessory.
- Socialize. Thank Goodness for WhatsApp, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
- Know many people feel like you. You are not alone.
- Ask for help if you need it.
- Believe COVID stands for Concentrate On Victory In Defeat.
In short, even if you only have one rose, smell it. I hope some of this message appeals to you. Maybe just triggers a little Contentment flavoured with a dose of Hope; something you can be grateful for and hang on to. It is not intended to be clever; we all feel the reality of this situation and it does get us down. But we will come through it and we will prosper again. Character, and its elements like contentment and gratitude and good choices, is moulded in a crucible and we will be stronger for this experience.
HLJ is in this with you. We celebrate the interest rate reductions, contained inflation, the low fuel price, the Deeds Office opening and the banks working throughout. All of those material things are positive. But beyond these, we celebrate our people from every walk of life, specialists in their fields of endeavour and supportive of our cause. We cannot wait to see you again, exchange a smile and a happy greeting. We know we will and right now, we are content in that hope.