There is much talk about happiness these days, but contentment may be the real unicorn. The thesaurus reveals a few synonyms for contentment: peace, fulfillment, ease, serenity, satisfaction … doesn’t this sound appealing? Being content means we are happy with our current state and don’t continually need more and more. After all, we can’t really be happy all the time but we can remain content, despite the bad things that come our way. Which they surely will.
We all know that things which might seem to make us content—wealth or beauty as examples—don’t really do so. Rather our own thoughts and attitudes influence our contentment. In other words, we can learn to be more content by controlling our mindset and reactions.
Being thankful for all we have, whether great or small, is the bedrock of a contented life. Remembering all the things we have helps us recognize our good fortune and make room for a richer perspective in life. Gratitude helps us push through our challenges to a more contented state. Think about this saying: “Be thankful for the life you have while fighting for the life you want.” Practice thankfulness each day. And journaling your gratitude can be a great way to reinforce this attitude and provide more self-love along the way.
You will be much more content if you can maintain a positive outlook. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore the fact that negative things will happen or be excessively upbeat. But you can work on changing your mindset if you tend toward pessimism. When you find yourself having negative thoughts, try thinking about what you might learn from the situation and whether it is really as bad as you think. Maybe there is another angle or way to look at your circumstances.
Negativity has no benefits for you whereas choosing positivity attracts other positive events and opens your eyes to new opportunities.
Your choices, thoughts, and actions can influence your level of contentment. Put yourself around happy people. Be kind to others and let them know your appreciation. Be sparing with critique. Show yourself the love you show others. Some people play the when-then game, “when I get ____, then I will be content”. But the ball just keeps moving down the road. Instead, being intentional about your contentment leads to your own peace, happiness, self-sufficiency, and love of mankind rather than discontent which leads to jealousy, sadness, and negative restlessness.
As they say, ‘When you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work’. Orienting your life around something that gives your life meaning—something you love—will bolster your self-esteem by providing a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It can be anything that matters to you—helping the homeless, teaching children, growing food through gardening, finding your spirituality… As long as you lose yourself in activities that really light your fire, you will be happier and more content with your life.
This doesn’t mean you should not strive to be better or achieve more or continuously learn new things. Says author Vandana Sehgal, “I look at finding contentment as putting an end to strife, not putting an end to striving.” In fact, contentment is not complacency. But we should not spend time acquiring ever more possessions. Socrates said, “Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” Some of the happiest people are minimalists, living on the bare necessities and focusing on meaningful relationships and experiences rather than materialism.
Someone will always have more or do better than us. Comparing ourselves to others, either our achievements or our possessions will lead us down the road to jealousy, envy, and ultimately discontent. In fact, we always compare the worst of ourselves to the best assumptions we have of others. Their lives are never as good as we think they are. Be happy with your own achievements. Be the very best you can be then be content with that.
There are many studies that show serving others makes us happier. Laura Arrillaga-Andreesen, in Giving 2.0, cites two studies showing that people who volunteer are healthier and happier than those who don’t. Other benefits of giving include a longer lifespan, better pain management, stress reduction, lower blood pressure, and even a 22% reduction in mortality. Getting out of our own stories and making someone else’s life better reflects our own well-being and the fact that we are in a position to give, leading to our own contentedness.
Taking time to smell the proverbial roses helps us savor the small pleasures of everyday life. Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future robs us of the happiness of today. Don’t postpone joy and contentment by waiting for a day when your life is perfect as that day won’t ever come. Instead, revel in the present, appreciate the small things in life, and what’s happening right now for a more contented life.
Meditation and mindfulness practices are all the rage. While many attribute this trend to Buddhism, the meditation of today is all about developing awareness or mindfulness of our body and senses, a stillness in the midst of chaos and busyness, and an ability to be more fully present. Being mindful allows us to heal the body, reduce stress, quiet the mind, relieve anxiety, open our hearts, and steady the spirit (Meditation For Beginners by Jack Cornfield). It stimulates the part of the brain that helps you feel good.
Interested in expanding your mindfulness practice? Here’s everything you need to know about yoga meditation.