Shades of Meaning

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grayI’m a writer so it’s not surprising that I love words. I love how they look and sound and how they feel in my mouth. I have favorite words – like juxtaposition, simplicity and whimsy. And then there are other words — like phlegm and noxious – of which I’m not a fan. I am a connoisseur of words. I like to ponder their meaning and the shades of meaning that separate two words that, at first glance, seem to mean nearly the same thing

I heard a snippet on the radio early this year that led me down a long and pondering road. It was a discussion about New Year’s resolutions and their useful/uselessness. I’m not necessarily a proponent of these resolutions, coming as they do at a time of high stress and low sunshine. I’ve always felt birthdays are a better time to assess and set goals. But that’s just me.

Anyway, the talking head on the radio (and I apologize for having major mom brain – I don’t know who it was or even what station I was listening to, but I don’t think that’s important here) was proposing that instead of making resolutions, women should resolve to be content.

Content (adj.) – satisfied with what one has; not wanting more or anything else.

My first reaction was, “Amen to that.” I am a big believer in contentment. I would call it one of my core values. I strive to practice contentment in my own life as well as teaching my children what it means to be content. I believe that being content with who and where you are is the single biggest determining factor in whether a person can be truly happy. Not wealth, not stuff, not even love. Contentment.

So it was a little weird for me when the voice in my head said, “Wait a minute.” Suddenly choosing contentment over resolutions felt like it might be a copout. And it was because of a word that is a cousin of content, but whose meaning is quite different. That word is complacent.

Complacent (adj.) – pleased, especially with oneself or one’s merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied.

For me, being content means a feeling of satisfaction that comes from a place of knowledge. Being complacent means having a feeling of satisfaction that comes from a place of some level of ignorance – be it blissful or not. In my own experience, this ignorance usually takes the form of turning a blind eye or ear.

For instance, when my weight was where I didn’t want it to be after having three babies back to back to back, it was easier to tell myself that I looked pretty good for having had three kids in three years all after the age of 36. That was easier than saying, “Hey, enough with the ice cream, watch what you eat and get your butt moving.” Once I did – once I dug down deep and did the work and saw the results, I found contentment. Not contentment born out of finally looking like a cover model. Shockingly, that was not the result of my hard work J Rather contentment with what fit and healthy looks like on me – all 44 years of me. And when I felt myself getting a little lazy last winter, when the stress of everyday life as a full-time mom and a snatches-of-time author were catching up with me, it was time for a stern talking to. Complacent isn’t good enough. I want content – and content takes work.

Content doesn’t mean not working toward continuous improvement.

I’m content with my marriage and my husband (truth is I’m over the moon crazy about the man), but without the daily work to stay strong and connected, content could slide toward complacent pretty easily. And I don’t want to think about what comes after complacent.

I’m content with my life as a mommy. Who am I kidding, I flat-out LOVE my life as a mommy. But I am – painfully – aware of my shortcomings. Like say, patience and always speaking in a calm and loving voice while disciplining. I vow to my sweeties to never become complacent in my role as their mommy. I will always try to be better and to do better. I know I’ll never be the mom they truly deserve, but I’ll never stop trying. And I’ll never stop believing that just as I am blessed and lucky to have them, they are blessed and lucky to have me, too – warts and all.

And my faith. Contentment is at the root of my faith. I think some of that is born out of being a lifelong Catholic. It’s part of me and always has been – woven into my very being each and every day since I was born. But part of me feels like always having had my faith makes it easier to slip into complacency. Praying automatically instead of mindfully. Attending Mass out of habit rather than purpose. Not taking opportunities to dig a little deeper and discover something new to me. So while I’m tremendously content in my faith, I will try always to avoid the temptation of becoming complacent.

So contentment – yes and always! Contentment to me feels like drinking a big cup of cocoa, with marshmallows while wrapped up in a warm blanket on a chilly evening. Complacency feels like schlepping around in my baggy yoga pants with my unwashed hair in a knot. It’s okay some of the time, but not the best look for everyday J

This lover of words – this self-admitted word nerd — wishes you contentment – in who you are, in what you have, and in where you are in your lives.

Copyright 2014 Marilee Haynes

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