Cultivating Contentment


John Tocci with Georgian vineyard workers

I love Arthur Brooks’ talks in The Atlantic’s column, “How to Build a Life.”

The title alone says a good life takes effort – it’s a long walk in the same direction and the goal is achievable, but next steps are not always obvious. Brooks encourages us to remember the things we are grateful for and sticks to the adage, “Count Your Blessings” and goes a step further, urging us to keep track by writing them down and rereading them.

I don’t know about you, but for me this past year has included many losses, disappointments, and delays. It’s easier to be bitter than thankful. So, it’s more important than ever for me to remember that gratitude is a muscle. It takes work (in this case writing) – we’re not born good at it. For me, it involves intentionally lifting my eyes above my situation, noticing the small things I can neither buy nor sell, like sunlight slanting through trees, clouds piling up on each other, and the deep red veins of a single maple leaf in autumn. Yeah, this may sound a little goofy coming from a construction guy, but it’s real and carries powerful effects for me and more importantly, those around me.

It means appreciating what I have – heat in the wintertime, a roof that doesn’t leak, running water. It means valuing relationships, the people who love me for who I am. Some of us are even blessed with lifelong companions who travel the same road.

It means bracing myself as I kneel on the floor awaiting the onslaught of grandkids who greet me with all the might they can muster… holding a newborn grandchild and marveling at tiny but perfect fingers and holding him against my chest till sleep overtakes and he breathes deeply and steadily.

Gratitude means cultivating contentment, especially in difficult circumstances. Situations are temporary and do not have the last word. I must defend against envy because it breeds discontent. I have what I need and so much more. I must refrain from anger because it robs peace. Life is not fair, but I will suffer if bitterness takes root. I have power to be an influence for good. I have been blessed by using my time and talent to serve others – in giving, there is great reward.

I am preaching to myself and practicing giving thanks with a grateful heart. It’s a long walk in one direction. Happy Gratitude Day.