Contentment isn’t a matter with being content with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being content with what you have — but realizing that as humans, we will always try to improve, no matter how happy we are. If we don’t, we have given up on life.
Today I’d like to discuss contentment, and the amazing things it can do in all aspects of our lives. And then we’ll look at a few tips for getting to contentment.
“Happiness is self-contentedness.” – Aristotle
We choose whether we are happy or unhappy. Read that sentence again if it’s not already something you consciously practice in your daily life. If you’re unhappy with your life right now, I will venture to guess that it’s because you’ve chosen to be unhappy. That sounds harsh, but in my experience it’s completely true. I cannot speak to whether this concept of happiness applies to everyone — especially clinically depressed or those with similar disorders, people who are starving or homeless, people who have undergone massive tragedies or abuse, or others in such circumstances. However, for most people, I believe the principles will apply.
You might say, “But my life is crap! Of course I’m going to be unhappy!” And I hear you: I’ve had those times when my job wasn’t going well, when my relationships weren’t going well, when my finances were very bad, when I was overweight, when my life was a mess.
But listen to this: I’ve had those conditions at several points in my life. And sometimes, I was unhappy in those kinds of conditions. And others, I was happy and content. So I’ve come to the conclusion — and it’s proven true time and again — that it’s not the conditions that make me unhappy, but my choice of thoughts, of attitude, of behavior.
What behaviors and thoughts and attitudes were different between my times of unhappiness and happiness? When I was unhappy, I focused on all the bad things in my life. Not only that, but I continually thought about how bad they were, and would complain, and would ask, “Why me?” I would let myself sink into inaction and eventually depression. I would be grumpy and cause those around me to be unhappy. That, in turn, only made the situation worse. It certainly didn’t help my job.
Let’s look at the times of happiness, in contrast: I focused instead on the good things in my life. Because while I had problems at my job and with my relationships and with my finances and health and all that … there were still good things. At least I had a job! At least I had someone who loved me! At least I wasn’t sick! At least I wasn’t bankrupt and homeless! I counted, instead, my blessings. I do this when things aren’t looking so good, and it turns me around.
I had the power to change my job. To simplify my life. To get out of debt. I had my health, even if I was overweight. I had family around me who loved me. I had the power of my words, and my books that I loved reading. I had life!
And this outlook on life helped me to be happier. I was happy, despite my conditions, because I chose to be happy. I found contentment in what I already had, instead of wishing I had something else, instead of being discontented with what I had. Contentment not only made me happy, but it transformed my life in many ways. Here’s how.
This is perhaps the most obvious area affected on this list, because many people see “contentedness” and “happiness” as one and the same. In many ways, they are, but it’s really a matter of focus. When you’re happy, it’s really a state of being, influenced by a number of factors, including contentedness.
Contentedness, on the other hand, is a matter of being satisfied with what you have. It focuses on what you have and don’t have instead of just being a state of being. It influences happiness. However, you can choose to be content, just as you can choose to be happy, and if you choose to be content, you will be happy.
There are many ways to become happy — you can become happy by doing certain things (running, getting into Flow, sex), you can become happy because you are loved or in love, you can become happy because you just won a competition or a million dollars. Being content is just one way to be happy, but it’s a great way.
The reason we get into financial trouble, oftentimes, is that we buy more than we can afford. And the root of that buying is buying things we want instead of only things we need, and the root of that is not being content with what we already have.
Finding contentment with the stuff you have and with a simpler life can lead to buying less, to buying things we need instead of want, and to only spending what we can afford.
Many times it seems that we’re never satisfied with our significant others. They don’t behave how we want them to. That’s often at the root of relationship problems, as many-headed as those problems may seem.
Instead, learn to be content with the person you love, just as they are. This isn’t always easy, as we are usually trained (by our well-intentioned but never-satisfied parents, and others around us) to do just the opposite — to try to change people. However, you will only find trouble if you try to change your significant other. You might get them to change their behavior (but most often not), but they will be unhappy, and in turn the relationship will suffer.
As mentioned above, parents are often not satisfied with their children. They need to be cleaner, better behaved, better in school, more organized and studious, more courteous and kind and compassionate, better groomed and better at sports. Well, that leads to the relationship problems mentioned above, later in the kids’ lives, as they have learned to never be satisfied with others and to try to change them.
It also leads to inferiority complexes in our children, in unhappiness, and in bad relationships with them. Instead, we should learn to love our children unconditionally, to accept them for the people they are, and to let them know this through not only our words but our actions.
Accept children for who they are, and they will be happier, and so will you.
Should we be content with our jobs? Well, I won’t say that you should stick with a dead-end job and a boss that treats you like dirt. If you’re unhappy with your job, change it. That’s been my approach and it’s worked for me.
However, I have learned that being a content person in other areas of your life, and being content with your life in general, can generally help you at any job. Discontented people tend to be complainers, or grumpy, or negative. That leads to problems at the job. People who are content tend not to complain and tend to have a more positive attitude, and in my experience that almost always leads to more opportunities, both within the job (promotions, new projects, etc.) and outside the job (job offers, networking, etc.).
Getting to Contentment
So if contentedness is so great, how do you get there? That’s not always easy, but here are some things that have worked for me:
• Count your blessings. I mentioned this above, and in a previous post, but for me it’s the best way to get to contentment. When you find yourself unhappy with something, or with what you don’t have, take a moment to count all the good things in your life. And I would bet there are many. It puts the focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t.
• Stop, and remind yourself. When you find yourself unhappy with someone, or trying to change them, stop yourself. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you should try to be happy with that person for who he/she is. Take a moment to think about the good things about that person, the reasons you love that person. Then accept their faults as part of their entire package.
• Stop, and consider why you want something. When you feel the urge to buy something, think about whether it’s a need or a want. If it’s a want, take a pause. It’s good to wait 30 days — keep a 30-day list … when you want something, put it on the list with the date, and if you still want it in 30 days, you can buy it). Consider why you want something. Are you not content with what you already have? Why not?
• Take time to appreciate your life! I like to reflect on my life, and all the good things in it, on a regular basis. I do this when I run, or when I watch the sunset or sunrise, or when I’m out in nature. Another great method is a morning gratitude session — think of all the things and people you’re thankful for, and thank them silently.
• Show people you appreciate them. It’s good to appreciate people, but it’s even better to show them. Give them a hug, smile, spend time with them, thank them out loud, thank them publicly.
• Learn to enjoy the simple things. Instead of wanting to buy expensive things, and spend money on doing things like eating out or entertainment, learn to enjoy stuff that’s free. Conversations and walks with other people. Spending time outdoors. Watching a DVD or playing board games. Going to the beach. Playing sports. Running. These things don’t cost much, and they are awesome