ENJOYING LIFE IN HARD TIMES
The most casual Little House on the Prairie fan knows that wealth, luxury, and instant gratification aren’t essentials for contentment. Nonetheless, people—including people who are well off by most standards—tend toward denigrating their present circumstances and living for some imagined utopia: “I’d be happy if only I were richer/married/in another job/in another part of the country.”
Truth is, they wouldn’t. The dissatisfaction habit is as insatiable as wildfire. And if we constantly bemoan our lot, have we any right to reprimand our children when they whine for more than we can give?
You may be dealing with a tight budget, an illness in the family, or simply the stress of chronic overload. Regardless, you and your family can learn the secrets of being content in any circumstances.
Stop Encouraging Comparison
Dissatisfaction and “Why me?” grumbling are perhaps less frequent in low-tech societies because people are less exposed to reminders that others have more. If you look to social media and society magazines to tell you what “everyone else” has, you’re sending an open invitation to “why not me?” self-pity. Switch your web-surfing hours for time savoring and improving what you have; and know that many “beautiful people” dream of trading their secret struggles for a healthy/happily-married/house-full-of-children/uncomplicated life like yours.
Give of Yourself
Helping out someone in need benefits the giver as well as the recipient: there’s hardly a person alive who doesn’t feel richer after making a gesture of generosity. The more directly you relate to the receiver, the better:
- Pay for a stranger’s coffee.
- Play with your children and listen when they want to talk.
- Comfort a discouraged friend.
- Volunteer at a food pantry or Habitat for Humanity building project. Chat with the people you’re serving and learn about their experiences, skills, and dreams.
Appreciate the Present
If “count your blessings” seems clichéd, try one of these techniques for finding joy in the moment:
- Make it an art project: create a photo collage, mobile, or Wordle of things and people you love.
- Turn it into a family game: see who can name the most blessings that start with certain letters of the alphabet, or remind them of certain colors.
- Let everyone choose a favorite activity. Every Saturday for a month, do one activity as a family, and charge everyone who didn’t choose it to remember seven things they liked about it.
- Play or snuggle with a pet. Cats and dogs set excellent examples of being satisfied with little.
- Do mindfulness exercises: concentrate on really noticing your feelings and surroundings, letting yourself get thoroughly lost in the moment. (Google “mindfulness exercises” to find step-by-step how-to instructions.)
- Every time you’re tempted to complain, turn it into a positive thought (“I hate going to work in this cold” becomes “I’m so blessed to have a job, access to public transportation, and fresh-brewed coffee waiting at the office”). Whatever you focus on is what your life (and the lives of most people under your influence) will become; so make a habit of focusing on the bounteous side!