The secret to contentment: A birthday reflection

The secret to contentment is to practice everyday. Contentment is formed through a habit of daily thankfulness and appreciation of what we have, where we are going and where we’ve come from.

Today is my 35th birthday. In Australia it happens to fall on ANZAC day. On this day we pause in silence to reflect, honour and say thank you to the women and men who died in wars of the past and present, fighting for the civil freedoms and sovereignty Australia enjoys today.

It is then pertinent that I have been wrestling with the idea of thankfulness and contentment and its significance in our lives today especially as we stop to reflect on our birthday.

I’ve noticed a growing trend recently. Many of us are in a hurry, I am the biggest culprit as you’ve read previously. We are overloaded with information and appointments and don’t often take the time to slow down, rest and reflect.

Whether we are chasing a financial independence, trying to launch our careers, trying to find a spouse or even trying to finish our study we all need to stop, pause and practice the daily habit of thankfulness.

Not being content can be the symptom of running the race of life too hard. Not being content allows the great experiences of life to pass by unnoticed. The old parenting adage “they grow up so quickly” is particular important, as when we are building businesses and careers, our kids DO grow up unnoticed as our attention and appreciation is elsewhere in our work life balance.

Contentment is being thankful for what is in front of you. "Pelican dad!!" He talked about this for days after.
Contentment is being thankful for what is in front of you. “Pelican dad!!” He talked about this for days after. #worklifebalance

In the last two weeks I’ve rediscovered that the practice of thankfulness does lead to contentment and that being content is the greatest gift we can give ourselves on our birthday.

I met with a business mentor this week for the first time and was expecting to walk away with greater insight and knowledge about wealth. But I was genuinely surprised when I walked away more dedicated to spending my time at home with Kylie and the boys and being content with my lot.

He looked at me seriously and said, “I’ve made fortunes and lost fortunes, raised children and lost loved ones and greatest thing that I’ve learnt is to be happy where you are. I’ve chased wealth but the only thing that lasts in life is relationships.” I was blown away that his sage advice coincided with my recent readings from one of the wisdom books of the bible.

Solomon the richest and wisest man who ever lived, who had his pick of beautiful women, the finest clothes and who had the largest property portfolio reflected about contentment. He said,

” I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is a gift from the almighty”. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13.

Wisdom has two parts. It is LEARNING from the experiences and then APPLYING this to or lives. Without application, it is simply knowledge. Both Solomon and my mentor had the same point, enjoy your life, enjoy your family, love your work and be thankful for what you DO have. Without this, “life is meaningless, like chasing the wind” as Solomon continually reminds us.

A colleague at work asked me this week “so what do you want for your birthday?” Genuinely, I replied “Nothing, I’m pretty happy with what I have,”. Not satisfied with my answer she probed, ”Everyone wants something, what is it that you want?”. I thought, yes we are conditioned to always want more and not be satisfied with our lot.

Thankfulness translates to the feeling of contentment, which allow us to filter how we use our time, what we look at on the Internet and what we hope for in the future.

An excellent way to practice thankfulness is always keeping reminders in front of you of where you came from, what is in your hand currently and where you are headed. This can be physical reminders or using the quiet of the day or your commute to reflect on that you are grateful for. Note how I’ve said “practice thankfulness” as this is not always a natural tendency to most of us, as we are often buffeted and rolled by the waves of life that we can often to focussed on current issues to stop and practice this habit.

As a medical student I spent many hours studying and in front of my desk I had pictures of my friends in Perth who I was thankful for (all their shenanigans and where I had come from), pictures of my parents (who had sacrificed their savings to send me to Sydney – my present) and pictures of Kylie (my love and my future). Seeing these everyday kept me centered on my mission in Sydney to study and to be overjoyed about where I had come from and achieved.

Always keep reminders of where you've come from, what is happening now and where you are headed #worklifebalance
Always keep reminders of where you’ve come from, what is happening now and where you are headed #worklifebalance

Above is a picture of my desk at home. In front of me everyday is my wedding picture, which allows me to reflect on my marriage, our 11years together and my present. The middle is a picture of my boys, which reminds me daily of my role as their father and leader and how grateful I am that they are healthy and well – my present. Finally on the right is my medical degree, which I am grateful for everyday, that I was given the opportunity to go to medical school and to add Dr. at the start of my name. That will NEVER get old. This is my past, present and future.

My desk in Perth in 2009. Reminders to me of being thankful for being a doctor and Kylie for putting up with me #worklifebalance
My desk in Perth in 2009. Reminders to me of being thankful for being a doctor and Kylie for putting up with me #worklifebalance

Be intentional about being thankful everyday because if we don’t, the cares and worries of the world WILL sweep us away into anxiousness and ungratefulness. This will keep from us from achieving a life of significance that we seek.  I love this saying from Zig Ziglar as it encapsulates the idea of thankfulness and its benefits.

“The more you are grateful for what you have, the more you will have to be grateful for” Zig Ziglar

Live intentionally. Practice thankfulness daily.

Dr. Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Edwin Kruys says:

    Buddhism meets christianity… Great post, thank you. Happy birthday!

    Like

    1. Dr. Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP says:

      Dear Edwin

      Thank you! The foundations of both do involve the daily practice of thankfulness. As a young GP i’ve found myself always pushing for more and more but have slowly stopped being thankful for where i’ve come from and how great it is to be here!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Janet Diaz says:

    So true Jonathon. We sometimes seem to be slow learners when it comes being content, and thankful for what we have. Thankyou again.

    Like

    1. Dr. Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP says:

      Dear Janet, you are welcome and thank you for taking the time to read this. Isn’t it so important to slow down and be thankful?

      Like

  3. Omnipleasant says:

    So true. I like how you put pictures of your past, present and future on your desk. I’m going to follow your lead. 😉

    Like

    1. Dr. Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP says:

      Thanks for the comment. It is something that I’d unconsciously done but then put it together when I heard Andy Stanley talk about it in another context.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Elissa says:

    Thank you for another wise post from The Healthy GP! I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve picked up a couple of books on the topic – “In Praise of Slow” by Carl Honore and “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown (which I am yet to finish). I also attended some education by Dr David Kissane, who is an expert on demoralisation (not uncommon in the palliative care setting), which led me to reflect on meaning and its role in keeping us happy and healthy. I am extremely thankful to have found a career and side projects that I find very meaningful.

    PS Happy Birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dr. Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP says:

      Dear Elissa

      Thank you for your birthday wishes! There is just something about having a public holiday on your birthday that adds to the thrill of the day!

      I’ve wanted to read “Essentialism” really because of the tag “the disciplined pursuit of less”. Now with your recommendation, I will be ordering it with my next book run. I just checked out Greg McKeown’s blog too, there is some interesting reading there.

      Thankfulness is a practice that will serve us well through our lives as discontentment robs us of the simple pleasures of life.

      Im touched that you think it was wise. Thank you Elissa.

      Like

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