The other evening, snow fell gently as I sat reading in front of our evening fire. My husband had gone to bed, but I savored the sound of silence, save for the crackle of the logs -- utterly content.
Content. Wow. Not striving, not planning or making notes, not wishing I'd done something differently, not envisioning a scene for my next book or blog, not unhappy or worried or stressed.
When I think about my journey to contentment I am grateful for dogged determination; that reasons for unequivocal forward motion existed; for guiding lights with helping hands and hearts; but mostly that I love and am loved.
Statistically, the odds of my finding, health and happiness, let alone contentment, were low. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente conducted a study called "Adverse Childhood Experience Study" or ACES. Ten types of childhood trauma were evaluated.
They discovered that 67 percent of their subjects had a score of 4 or more. And if one has a score of 4 or more they are 2.5 times more likely to have chronic heart disease (a leading killer in the U.S. today); 2.5 times more likely to contract hepatitis or lung cancer; 4.5 times more likely to develop depression; and 12 times more likely to take their own life, with a 20-year reduction in life span.
My score came in at 5.
I survived complex trauma. Prolonged, sustained physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse as a child. I have PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress). I have what psychologists call a "highly sensitive personality" on the basis both of temperament and childhood experience. I have joked with my husband that my body offers up riddles for me to solve. Something will go wrong physically for no seeming reason. My body has flagged a piece of emotion, or an experience that my mind and heart haven't caught up with yet. When I am able to unravel it -- my body lets it go. I have great respect for my body's radar.
So how is it that I find contentment now? That I am healthy, fulfilled, and happy with life and my connection to family and friends? Books could be written about the movement from "there" (childhood experience) to "here." I'll simply say that I was lucky on several fronts. I had a grandmother who loved and believed in me. I had phenomenal assistance (both professional and informal) as I journeyed to emotional health, which by the way, was a triathlon of endurance. (I fully describe my pilgrimage in my forthcoming memoir, The Fifth Sister.) I hung in -- tenaciously. I had children to protect. I refuted the boundaries my family's experience, my church, and my failing marriage would have imposed. It was not easy, I doubted myself frequently, but it was worth it.
I have made epic mistakes in my life, but I've made excellent choices too. I've found happiness, joy, even seasons of peace and bits of contentment throughout my life. But I have learned that sustained contentment, at least for me, took intention. Here are six ways I strengthened my mind, heart, body and spirit.
1. The past informs the future. That's all. Address the past in order to grow from it.
2. A mistake is merely that -- a chance to learn something helpful. My current mistakes don't come with the ramifications of my youth. Consequences as a child were far-reaching and brutal. I am now better at being kind to myself when I screw up. I take myself less often to my woodshed (the place you beat yourself up for said mistake).
3. Make time to be "in the moment" every day. That's not easy for a person like me, who plans, executes, and measures forward motion by results. When I glide out onto the river on my standup paddle board, I touch nature; I feel air and the water, hear the osprey or a fish jump, see the sun rise over the mountain and light a path, and smell the evergreen trees. All of life seems to coalesce as my world slows to the dip and pull of the paddle. Find something that does for you what being on the water does for me.
4. Stay in touch with those who matter to you by whatever method works for you and them. You need them in your life, and they need you. Along the way you may need to "fire" some of your present friends to make room for new ones. Ask yourself, "Are the people I have in my life the people I want in my life?"
5. Be intentional about health. Eat smart, sleep enough, exercise regularly.
6. Laugh often. Look for the humor in something. Watch a silly movie. Mimic your kids as they exhibit uninhibited joy. It'll lighten your heart. Laughter heals.
Life will offer up all manner of uncertainty this year, of that I'm fairly sure. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I'm good with that. Being willing to step into the unknown is part of resilience. And, having just had family home for the holidays, contentment feels like a good long cuddle.
Laura Landgraf is an author, activist, speaker and survivor. Laura would love to hear from you at www.lauralandgraf.com.