When we try to find the key to contentment, it often feels like world gives us conflicting messages. On one hand, we are told that to be content all we have to do is simply have gratitude. Revel in the present, appreciate what you have, and your happiness will soar.
On the other hand, we are encouraged to follow our dreams, to reach for more, to strive for something bigger, brighter, shinier.
So which is it? Do we appreciate what we have now? Or do we look forward and search for something we might be missing?
The answer is both.
The key to contentment is finding the balance between embracing what we have and knowing when to create change for ourselves.
Let’s put it another way.

Life is a Raft

Say you’re in an inflatable raft on a lake. Anyone who has been in a raft knows how wildly clumsy they can be. Move around too much or stand up suddenly and you’re bound to wobble and flop right into the water (there’s a reason they say “Don’t rock the boat”).

So why move around? Instead of struggling or floundering to get somewhere, just be. Stay put. But while you’re at it, enjoy the ride. Float along and soak up the sun, dip your toes in the water, feel the pleasant bobbing of the raft. You might even see some beautiful sights; birds flying overhead or fish coming up to the surface. You might drift into a lush, shady cove or discover a beautiful part of the lake you’ve never seen before.

If you think of life as a raft, you can see how it might bring you pleasure to truly observe and enjoy what’s around you. It could be anything from a delicious meal to your best friend to the satisfaction you get from your work. Everyone’s ride (and raft!) is a little different, so we are all grateful for different things.

Assess the Scenery

So you’re there, bobbing along, soaking up all that sun. Isn’t it lovely? But remember, there’s a risk to just floating. If all you do is float along and get wrapped up in your ride, you might get lost or stuck. Drift aimlessly and you might wander so far that you end on a rocky shore.

The trick is to avoid ending up in those places. Be sure to have gratitude for your raft and the lovely ride. Enjoy the sun and the breeze and the dreamy blue water. But also make sure to pick your head up now and then do a quick scan of where you are. Be wary when you’ve been in the same place for too long or when you’re drifting a little too haphazardly. If you stay in one spot, you’ll never see anything new. Drift too far and you risk getting lost.

If life is like this raft, we can also see how doing a little reassessment every now and then might give us information. This is as simple as asking yourself questions. Do you feel secure about the future, or is there something you think you can actively change that just doesn’t work for you anymore? Is there something you truly love that you could be doing more of? Are you healthy? Are you secure and stable?

If you see that you’re wandering off course or you can picture an alternative to where you are now, do as you would on a raft. Paddle! Bring yourself back to where you need, or want, to be. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. You don’t have to panic or flail or kick your legs around (remember, don’t rock the boat if you don’t have to). Just paddle gently and slowly and steadily. Eventually you’ll make it to that sweet spot on the lake.

Everyone Hits a Storm Now and Then

Sometimes, you don’t have a say in where your raft ends up. A storm might brew overhead, or maybe the raft deflates and you have to ditch it altogether and find a new one. Perhaps someone calls out to you from another raft and you need to abandon your course in order to help. This is life. People get sick, accidents happen, and certain relationships just don’t work out. Simply put, you may find yourself in a place where you just can’t afford to stay put, a place where change is necessary and immediate. Again, that’s life.

When disaster strikes, approach it like you would on your raft. Swim or call for help or find the nearest piece of land where you can rest. If you look for solutions, you will find them. If you call to people, they will help. You will survive. And you will come out a stronger swimmer and a better navigator.

But In The Meantime…

Even though storms happen for just about everyone, they are few and far between. Most days you are floating and drifting. For those times, know that you can enjoy the ride and explore what’s out there while also being mindful of where you are and where you’re headed.

So go ahead. Float, find new shores and remember that you steer the course. Remind yourself how wonderful it is to have a raft at all.