March 6, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
I’ve been doing a lot of reading in my attempt to explore contentment.
I have an intuitive sense that for me, contentment is going to involve paring down to essentials, and using more of the minimalist tools I’ve employed in the past. So the phrase “Enough Already” came readily to mind when I was trying to decide on a title for the post in which I announced the year’s theme. If I ever turned this blog into a book, I thought, “Enough Already” might end up being a good title.
So I did what many people do when considering a title for a book. I googled it to see if it’s been used before. It has. Three times. Reading these books seemed a legitimate research project. Though I have to admit that doing so at times proved challenging.
If you thought a blog on contentment would be free from carping and criticism, you are about to be deeply disappointed.
In fact it is my critical, perfectionist nature – turned on myself as often as it is on others – that has convinced me I need to practice contentment more. My tendency is to make a beeline for the negative, to foreground everyone’s flaws the moment I feel anxious, threatened or afraid. Which, let’s face is, is a fair amount of the time.
I come by this honestly. I grew up in a house with a deeply discontented, hypercritical, controlling parent who had his own reasons for being the way that he was. We all have our reasons. All the same, to understand why you think or behave the way you do is not the same as having the tools you need to change those thoughts and behaviors. It is, as the logicians would say, necessary but not sufficient.
Consider yourself warned.
In the MBTI Personality Inventory (that’s Myers Briggs Type Indicator, for those of you unfamiliar with the test), I’m an INTJ. That means that Introversion, Intuition, Thinking and Judging are dominant aspects of my personality. Despite the fact that my other parent influenced me by being more in Thumper’s Mom’s camp (“If you can’t say anything nice….don’t say nuttin’ at all”), I am likely to get a little judgy here.
I try to find something good in everything I read, and I am used to the self-help genre being a mixed bag. Nevertheless, the author of Ecclesiastes is more right now than ever before: “of making many books there is no end, and much studying is a weariness of the flesh.” I’m never going to get those hours back, so the least I can do is try to make some sense of why they were mostly misspent.
Only one of the three “Enough” books actually has contentment in the title.
Well, the subtitle anyway. So I can’t really blame the others for not addressing my chosen topic. That’s why I really don’t want to consider these remarks “reviews.” It’s also why I’m only giving the subtitles. If you want to figure out who the authors are on your own, that’s fine, but I’m not interested in giving anybody’s work bad press. Just because I didn’t get what I was looking for doesn’t mean someone else won’t.
The first book’s subtitle is Create Success on Your Own Terms. It is an earnest bit of life coaching from a young man not much older than my own children, whose experience with what could have been a life-threatening illness caused him to re-evaluate his priorities and leave his big money PR job to focus on “health and wellness, brand energies and sacred entrepreneurship.”
Alrighty then. Brand me skeptical. It’s part of my MBTI profile.
The second book, subtitled Clearing the Clutter to Become the Best You! should appeal to my minimalist proclivities. Its author is a television personality, and, as I would know if I’d ever watched the Oprah network, Enough Already! was the name of one of his shows. He seems, in many ways, a kind and compassionate man, one who can bring out the tough love. But media celebrities on their third book who take the thing they are best at and expand it to cover All of Life can wear a little thin.
The third book is subtitled The Power of Radical Contentment.
It is published by Hay House, an organ of the New Thought movement. I had never heard of the New Thought movement before, but I assumed it was something New Age-y. Turns out I had the relationship backwards.
I often read several books at a time in different genres. Coincidentally, while I was reading this I was also reading a memoir by Barbara Sjoholm called Blue Windows: A Christian Science Childhood. It’s a beautiful book, impeccably written – the only beautiful book I will be mentioning today – and I highly recommend it.
Sjoholm goes some distance to explain the history of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science in the 19th century, as a means of putting into context her mother’s own tragic descent into mental illness when she was unable to faith-heal her own cancer. Mary Baker Eddy was a early disciple of Phineas Quimby, the founder of New Thought, and Christian Science has much in common with it.
A lot of the book is inspirational coaching.
Cheerful, uplifting, motivational pablum on being happy with your lot, practicing gratitude, realizing your own inner goodness, trusting the universe to support you. Inspirational coaching. Who could find fault with that? It may not be deep, but what harm does it do?
The author has contributed to Chicken Soup for the Soul, Paula; lighten up and sip the soup. I gleaned some wonderful quotations in the book, though there were some pretty terrible ones too. Personally I don’t think anything you label “source unknown” or “attributed to” has enough authority to be cited in a publication. But then, I was born before the Internet.
The difficulty I have here is the difficulty I have with most forms of New Age thought.
Or for that matter, Christian Science. To some extent I do agree that your thoughts can influence the reality you inhabit, and that you attract to yourself what you manifest or imagine. But that simply is not enough to explain the presence of suffering and injustice in the world, nor is it a sufficient tool to free people from these things. It is merely a form of self-hypnosis.
There are times when self-hypnosis can be a useful thing, but if you turn such a practice into dogma it makes it very easy to become complacent, to believe one’s good fortune is a product of one’s right thinking, and vice versa. To judge others – and oneself – for having “wrong thoughts.” It also makes it very tempting to stuff down negative thoughts, to deny their reality, and not to own your ugly moments.
Me, I have to own the ugly. I have to own it to let it go. And I’m not sure the Self-Help section of my local library is up to the task.
I may have to bring out the big guns.