How to Model Contentment When You’re Feeling Pretty Miserable
You’ve read some version of this sentence a bajillion times this year: 2020 has sucked.
It’s just been exhausting, expensive, sad, scary, unpredictable, and painful. If you’re anything like me, you were counting down the seconds until this 365-day circus has its final act.
But there’s the problem with that perspective—nothing magical happens when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. In fact, we may be facing another shutdown in the early New Year. Who knows?
The only thing I’m certain of is that I am in control of precious little. That’s always true, pandemic or not. But just as true is the fact that the precious little I do control can be the difference-maker in how the narrative of 2021 plays out for me, and to some degree, how it plays out for those I’m closest to, especially my child.
Before I get any further, let me say this: You have every right to feel whatever you’re feeling about the dissolution of normalcy and general chaos that this year ushered in.
I’ve personally been very NOT okay more often than not.
Some days, I feel like I’ve been caught in a rip tide of unfortunate circumstances where the waves of bad news keep coming at me—angry and relentless. There are times I struggle to catch my breath.
And parenting through 2020? I literally just laughed out loud. Parenting through a quarantine, pandemic, social uprising, contentious election, and employment decline was not covered in my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
But as parents, we’ve got an innate responsibility to lead our kids through this darkness even though we feel mostly blind ourselves. Slapping on a fake smile and pretending like everything is super-chill is not going to get the job done. First of all, our kids are smarter than that. They can see through our facades and showmanship. If we want our kids to learn contentment, we’ve got to find a way to authentically get there first. Second of all, we only get one life. If we continue to wish away all the days, weeks, and years that things don’t go our way, we’ll miss out on irreplaceable moments that could have been meaningful memories.
Here are a few ways I’ve tried to model contentment even though I’ve felt pretty miserable.
Find the upside of the dumpster fire.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been urged to soak in these “precious moments at home” with our loved ones.
But the moments I was quarantined at home were not really all that precious. In fact, if I were to look for the jewels in those weeks of complete shut-down, it would be like panning for gold at a closed-down mine.
I am a single mom; I work 40-60 hours on any given week. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE my job. But I don’t love fourth-grade science, math, or antsy kids who don’t understand why I can’t play with them 23 out of 24 hours a day.
My life, my home, and my heart resembled a raging dumpster fire. But you know the upside of a dumpster fire? At some point, it has to die out.
I anticipate with great joy the day that Covid is no longer the headline of every mainstream media outlet on the planet. That day is not today, but logically, I know it’s coming.
I have placated my discontent many times by repeating: “It won’t be like this forever. All you have is right now. What can you be thankful for today?”
If all you can be thankful for today is that everyone survived, then throw a flipping “We Survived Day ### of Covid” party.
When negativity screams and shouts at us all day long, we have to figure out a way to exaggerate the positive.
Discard discontentment triggers.
Everywhere I looked, I was constantly being told that I should be grateful for more time with my family. And the fact that this was not my overall attitude made me feel guilty and ashamed.
Over time, I realized I had some major discontentment triggers. Social media chiefly among them.
I knew that if I were going to survive, I had to put down my phone when it was doing more harm to my mind than good. Sure, most of my friends thought I’d died several times throughout the year during these social media breaks, but they were necessary.
One thing you can always control is your actions. And if you constantly feed the monster of discontentment, he’s going to grow and grow and grow until he swallows you up.
I made a promise to myself—I will not go to sleep or wake up to social media. And if I find myself needing to check out from it completely, I can and should do that.
Maybe for you, it’s a certain relationship that leaves you feeling discontent. A person at work, a friend, a family member. I give you permission to create unapologetic boundaries with these people.
Maybe once the pandemic is over, your threshold for discontentment will deepen and you can back out of some of those boundaries. But right now, we’re in an all-out war for our mental health. You are in control of your social circle. So if it’s anything but life-giving, move it to the discard pile. At least for right now.
Be honest about what’s hard.
After I experienced a decrease in income, I couldn’t pretend like nothing had changed. I had to tell my son that life would be different for a little while. I reassured him that everything would be okay, and that I had a plan. But that we would have to cut back on our UberEATS orders and Starbucks visits for the time being (#FirstWorldProblems).
I took it a step further and told him specifically how many times we could eat out each week and how many times we’d be eating at home. There were other budgetary cuts that didn’t affect them directly, so I skimmed over those. But for my son, giving him specific spending parameters was so much more effective than trying to maintain the same lifestyle out of fear.
Acknowledging the truth of a hard situation may seem too scary or too heavy for our kids to manage. But what I found is that they felt more reassured knowing I was communicating with him openly and planning for every what-if his little minds could create.
I’m still not sure if this is an upside or not, but as a result, 2020 was the year my son learned to cook.
Admit what’s hard. But don’t stop there. Make a plan. Take action. Do what only you can do. And then, be honest about it with your family.
Flip the coin.
I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s value in every struggle. Yes, to look at another year marked by Covid feels bleak and impossible. But the other side of that coin is . . . what?
For me, it’s a sense of pride. Pride in making it another day. Pride in being resourceful. Pride in doing research and making the best choice for my family. Pride in maintaining and deepening my faith, because despite all odds, my son and I are okay. We’re healthy. We’re (generally) happy. We’re doing this together.
It’s hard to feel discontentment when you look at the other side of the coin—when you see all you’ve already faced, and all you’ve already been through, and the fact that against the odds, you have endured.
Our entire country has gone twelve long rounds with this calendar year and we’re all bruised and battered. But we’re still standing. And that should give you a deep sense of security. A deep sense of contentment.