This Christmas, the second Covid Christmas of the world, it would be easy to focus on the negative – foreign holidays we can’t go on, overseas family that we can’t see, online gifts that are delayed or unavailable. There may also be the more serious issues of a loved one passed or sick from Covid (or some other illness or accident), a lost job, less money due to reduced hours or lockdowns, or relationships that have failed due to enforced distance or smothering closeness.
American author Max Lucado says, “The good life begins not when circumstances change but when our attitude toward them does.”
If you are counting your blessings and remembering all the good things you do have in your life, it is easier to feel content. Your focus is on the glass half full, instead of the glass half empty.
Studies have actually linked gratitude with a variety of positive effects. Researchers have determined that grateful people demonstrate less envy, materialism and self-centeredness. Gratitude enhances relationships and contributes to longevity and even our quality of sleep.
If it came in a pill form, gratitude would be a miracle cure. So if we can learn to be thankful for what we already have instead of what we think we need, it could make us happy.
Contentment is not natural
However, that isn’t our nature. The Apostle Paul said that he had learned to be content: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (Philippians 4:11–12 NLT).
Some things have to be taught. For instance, children are not naturally well-mannered. Instead, they are naturally selfish and inconsiderate. So we have to teach children manners.
If you put a child in a room and give him a toy, he’ll be relatively happy. But when you bring in another child with another toy, friction begins. They’ll fight over the toy they’ve determined is the best one. Each child wants what the other has. That’s human nature, and we don’t necessarily outgrow it.
So we see that contentment needs to be learned. It doesn’t come naturally to us, because we’re not naturally content.
How do we learn contentment?
The first thing to note is that our natural lack of contentment may be an indication, like hunger or thirst, that there is something fundamentally missing in our lives.
Famous Oxford Don CS Lewis said: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” The Bible says we were made for heaven and an eternity with God.
In so many of the stories in this paper, people chase happiness and fulfilment through drugs, sex, power or wealth, only to find that they are left more miserable than they were before. It is only when they find a relationship with Jesus Christ and have that very deep longing to be loved and for their lives to mean something, met, that they find contentment with their circumstances.
Hebrews 13:5 in the Bible says, “Be content with such things as you have. For [God] Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Once we are in relationship with Father God we can have the security to know that He is always with us and that He has promised to supply our needs. We don’t have to be afraid anymore and we don’t have to rely only on our own inadequate strength or ability to sustain us.
Being in a relationship with God also opens our eyes to the good and beautiful around us, so that it is easier to be grateful. We appreciate things that we never noticed before, like sunsets, close calls and last minute provisions. Suddenly our circumstances are no longer random but ordered by Providence and life events take on a new significance.
Knowing God and believing He promises us a life hereafter, also gives us perspective. This world is not all there is and we don’t have to try to cram all the good things into 70+ years. If we have to endure poverty or sickness now, we have all eternity to enjoy mansions and healthy bodies.
Hymn writer Fanny Crosby, who was born blind, famously said: “If I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind … for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Saviour.”
The second key to contentment, is to be careful who you compare yourself to. It is easier to be grateful and content when you remember that even having a closet full of clothes or a safe, weather-proof home is more than the majority of the world enjoys.
However, if we fill our minds with social media posts of the rich and glamorous, or constantly think of what other people have that we do not, then we are bound to feel inadequate and discontent.
The third key to contentment is to give. Generous people are happier, more contented people. It was Jesus Himself who said that is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:5).
When we are focussing on the needs of others and helping them, then we have less time and inclination to worry about stuff we don’t have. We feel a sense of purpose and usefulness that motivates us, and we are reminded continually that there are those who are worse off than ourselves.
So this Christmas, instead of getting depressed or angry at the things you lack, get grateful by turning your life over to Jesus and focussing on all the good people, opportunities and circumstances in your life. And may 2022 bring you many more!