Hinterland, Week Five: Complacency’s Ugly Stepsister
People, let’s talk about a thing:
Why does it feel like being content isn’t really allowed? Or at the very least, not really encouraged?
We say it’s allowed and say it’s encouraged, but aren’t we all constantly striving for more? Don’t we tend to judge people who aren’t striving for more and put them in the “not trying hard enough” pile?
And by “we” and “people,” of course I mean “me.”
I’ve noticed how quick I am to be defensive about this particular season in life, which, unlike many other seasons, is not categorized by working as hard as I can for as long as I can. I’m “just” doing some freelance work. I’m “just” baking bread. I’m “just” figuring out a few life-defining questions. You know. Small things.
And every time I have to explain it, I feel like I have to include an asterisk that says, “This isn’t forever! This is just a short break! I’ll go back to doing real work again… soon!” I’m afraid people will think I’m lazy, like I’m taking a lunch break while everyone else is still hard at work. This feeling puts a pendulum in motion that swings toward discontentment, as per last week’s post in which I freaked out about October and its “lack of productivity.”
[Insert Eye Roll Emoji Here.]
If complacency is what lulls us into unchecked lives of comfort, its ugly stepsister is discontentment, the nagging siren song that leads us into overanalyzed lives that never quite measure up.
Recently—in the past few years, recently—I’ve found myself more and more attracted to people who live quiet lives. Not unproductive lives, but peaceful, contented lives. These are people who don’t compare and contrast. They’re not climbing any ladders. They don’t worry too much about conventional success. You know what they have zero time for? Complacency and discontentment. They do the work that is theirs to do and do it gladly.
Gladys Taber does this so well. She was born in 1899 and spent most of her life at Stillmeadow, a Connecticut farmhouse her family purchased with their close friends in 1933. She taught creative writing at Columbia University and was a regular contributor to the Ladies’ Home Journal and Family Circle, but she is best remembered for her books about everyday life at Stillmeadow.
These books are like comfort food. The love Gladys has for her life seeps through every page. If she was vying to become Editor or University President, I’ve never read about it. What I have read, over and over again, are stories about her cocker spaniels and the beauty of the changing seasons in New England and the joy of pot roast.
I love that Gladys wasn’t afraid of hard work, nor was she defined by it. I love her for being a sassy lady and saying things like, “Whoever decided that comic valentines were a good idea should have been sent away to think it over.” But I love her most for loving her own life, for knowing what was hers to contribute and knowing it was meaningful.
“I resolve to be more patient, less selfish, cherish my friends, and in my small way help whoever needs help. I cannot conceivably influence the world’s destiny, but I can make my own life more worthwhile. I can give some help to some people; that is not vital to all the world’s problems and yet, I think if everyone did just that, we might see quite a world in our time!”
When I said I wanted to chill the heck out and enjoy November, what I meant is that I would like to be more like the Gladys’ of the world. I would like to actually be content—the kind of content that sees each day as a gift to be treasured, not as a stepping stone to be scrutinized.
P.S. These people also like contentment:
Paul: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6:6-11
Probably Paul: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11
Albert Einstein: “A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.”