THE SECRET: Key to Contentment
In writing, everything is fodder. If you don’t need it for character, you need it for plot, setting or one of the other basic novel elements. Where writers tend to have the most challenges is in conflicts. They tend to nail the external conflicts, but have a little more trouble when it comes to internal conflicts.
In the best novels, the internal conflict will mirror the external conflict. In other words, find out what the character fears most, then force him or her to face it. Whatever the most feared is the internal conflict, facing it is the external. The key to conflict is, of course, find a character’s weakness (internal conflict) and stomp it (external conflict). That’s the spine of your book—and mine.
When push comes to shove, most books are about the people, and that’s why in this column and in so many others, I discuss the inner-workings of human beings. We are all good, bad and indifferent. We’re all pulled together and a mess. We all have hot buttons, things that leave us cold, and about different things, we all fight confusion and hunger for inner peace and happiness. Though the older we get, the more we exchange the word happiness (that we control) to contentment (with ourselves and what we’ve done and left undone.)
So today let’s take a deeper look at one of the secrets about contentment. What does it take to make most people content? What can we do in our books and in our lives if we are not content? Or to be more content more of the time?
WHAT IS IT TO BE CONTENT? AND WHERE DO I FIND IT?
Content. By definition, it’s “a state of peaceful happiness, not wishing for more, being satisfied with a certain level of achievement.”
We all have experienced these things at times, and then been in the depths of despair at others.
Life is a study of contrasts, and without despair we couldn’t fully appreciate contentment. Yet none of us want to spend any more time in despair than we must to get that understanding from it. We “suffer” the consequences of our actions so that we fully grasp them, which makes a strong case for getting that understanding as quickly as possible and getting out of despair.
So quickly recognizing which of our actions bring about despair or negative consequences is obviously advantageous. We know we will be tested. That is a fact of life. Often, we deem it a curse, but that thinking is short-sighted. It is full understanding that leads to wisdom.
We want and need wisdom. It keeps us from doing further harm to ourselves, which is bad, but also to others, which is awful. Quick recognition and acceptance, allows us to spend less time in despair and more time content. So…
1. Recognize the action that causes the challenge.
2. Do what you can to correct the challenge.
3. Put that action on your “this causes pain and despair” list and avoid repeating it, seeking a constructive reaction instead.
We all endure times when nothing seems to go right, and everything we touch seems to fall apart in our hands. We don’t understand it. We try to live right, to do right, to conduct ourselves in a way that is consistent with our beliefs. And yet we hit brick walls and are stymied or swamped by things just not working out.
When we’re in these situations, there isn’t much personal contentment. And too often that sends us tumbling into despair, doubting, feeling lost and alone and unappreciated. We feel put upon, used and perhaps even abused by others, by life itself.
But these are actually times of disguised opportunity. We don’t grow and change during prosperous times. You’ve heard necessity breeds invention. Well, there’s a reason that got to be an old, common saying so you could it. It’s happened a lot.
When content, we glide and hang loose. We don’t feel the passion for accomplishing or growing or bettering our circumstances or condition. When contentment is absent, then we seek change to better our position, and in that seeking is the opportunity. Because we’re looking for ways to improve things, we find ways to improve things. We spot and actually create opportunities.
DON’T DESPAIR. REPAIR.
Focusing on despair is necessary–to pinpoint the challenge and its root cause, and to determine the best solution to resolve the challenge. Beyond that, focusing on despair is destructive. So in a word, don’t do it.
Instead, focus your thoughts on solutions, on alternative actions you can take to avoid the despair.
This is constructive–and the net gain is you spend less time in despair and more time content.
CAUGHT UP IN THE PAST?
Too often people get caught up in the past. They’re so busy looking back at what went wrong that they forget they’re stalled and not moving forward. You can’t focus on what’s behind you and move ahead. There’s a reason rearview mirrors are small and windshields are huge. So you see where you’ve been but focus on what’s ahead.
It’s a hard thing to watch– someone stuck in the past, chewing themselves up over mistakes made–or mistakes they think they’ve made. Their misery is consuming. And what is being consuming is their future–their destiny.
LEARN FROM MISTAKES THEN PRESS ON
We learn from mistakes. But once we have, what is the constructive purpose in reliving the mistakes again and again and again?
That is a path to personal destruction. To despair and depression.
One key to being content I’ve discovered is when I’m down, I analyze and decide on a course of action that doesn’t include that challenge in my future–and that’s where many stop. But there’s another step, and in it is a powerful weapon against despair and depression.
LOOK OUT? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
You’ve looked inside and gotten a grasp on what happened, why it happened, and determined how to avoid it happening again. Now, look out to someone else. Why?
We get an immense amount of joy from doing something for someone else. So go ahead. Make someone’s day. Focus on someone other than yourself. Be a blessing!
You don’t have to rock their world. You don’t have to take on all their problems as your own. Often, a simple gesture is enough to lift someone from despair so they can grab hold of a more balanced view and help themselves out of despair.
Have you ever had a really raunchy day, where everyone seems as grouchy as a bear with a thorn in its paw? Where you’ve so much to do and yet everything you do must redone? A day where no matter what you do or don’t do, you can’t please anyone?
When this happens, our reaction is typically a fervent wish that we hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning! Or we tell ourselves if we can just survive the day, we can be glad when it’s over. We tell ourselves, “Tomorrow will be a better day.” And if we’re lucky, we believe it.
What we need to remember is that bad times do pass. Hard times do pass. Despair too passes. And we can do things to help it along. Some call it karma. Some refer to it as the Biblical principle: we reap what we sow. Regardless of how you or your characters refer to the principle, if you remember it (and they remember it), all can call on that principle and put it to work. By doing so we help ourselves. How?
REAPING WHAT WE SOW—HELPING OURSELVES
Having a rotten day? Do something nice for someone else. Buy the stranger behind you in the drive-thru at Starbucks a cup of coffee. If you’re in a restaurant, and you see a lone military member having breakfast, tell the waitress to bring him or her your ticket and to tell him/her “thanks for your service.”
Let someone go ahead of you in line. If you’re going to the store, ask an elderly neighbor if they need anything. Raking up leaves? Rake yours and your neighbor’s.
Read a good book? Post a review on it online, or write “Good Book” on a post-it note and stick it to the cover on the store shelf.
Do something nice, not something expensive. Just something nice.
You’ll feel better and you’ll make someone else’s day better. too.
Isn’t it a great feeling to know you’ve helped break the awful-day pattern for someone else?
Little gestures of kindness are huge expressions of gratitude and caring. They signal appreciation. I know you’re here. I’m glad you’re here. You’re special. You matter.
Human beings are equipped to deal with love and hate. We know how to react to either. It’s indifference that tears us apart.
So when you’re down, make an effort to show others you are not indifferent. Making another’s day better makes keeping your own day in “awful” mode impossible.
You might think that your situation is so bad it can’t get better. It can. You might think you’ve been in despair forever and you’re doomed to stay in it forever. You’re not. You might think you can’t change–you’ve been the way you are so long you can’t be any other way. You can.
Principles are steadfast and true. Universal justice is inescapable. You will reap what you sow. So sow good seeds. Ones that will sprout, grow and blossom good things, not tough things.
Regardless of what is in the past, you can start where you are and change things from this point forward. You can spend less time in despair and more time content.
Resolve what you can. Accept what you can’t. And look outward. Be a blessing to someone else.
You didn’t get in your current position in a day, and it might take a little time to get out of it. But you can start climbing out today–now–by taking a baby step. Show one person one kindness. Do that, and you’ve begun the journey.
Do that, and you’ve snagged a secret key to being or becoming content.
A BONUS KEY
I’ll share with you another. Putting a smile on someone else’s face, making their day a little better, letting them know you’re not indifferent to them—gives you a rush. You feel happier, more joyful, better. And you’ll want to feel those things again and again.
As simple as it is, you’re expressing love for your neighbor. And invoking the principle of reaping what you sow. And what about that invites despair?
Nothing. But it does invite contentment—for characters, and for you. And that’s the secret key to contentment.
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Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Some releases are: Beyond the Misty Shore (romantic suspense), Duplicity (mystery/thriller), One Way to Write a Novel (nonfiction). She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Twitter. Contact. Facebook. Books.