There’s a positive emotion that can help you be happy with what you have and shift out of that mental state where you’re feeling incomplete and like you might need something to fill a hole in your life. Whether that’s with shopping, or participating in a relationship that maybe isn’t that great for you. And that is to achieve contentment.
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Isn’t the biggest shopping day of the year a great time to practice contentment?
Especially after one of the biggest feasts of the year when you hopefully have just spent some good time and energy contemplating the things you’re grateful for? I mean, if you’re going to be content on any given day of the year, today of all days you’ve got a really really good shot.
When you think of being content, you might think of being perfectly situated. You know, like you’re on the couch, you’ve got your blanket, your mug of tea, your slippers, and your pet is curled up next to you and there’s nowhere you need to be and nothing you need.
Or you might think of it like a cat–You’re so happy you could just purr.
But there’s a deeper meaning to content
And that is ‘unconditional wholeness’. It’s not dependent on whether you’ve got your slippers, or if someone is scratching you behind your ears. It’s more like have a deep rooted sense that you are OK. You are enough. You are good just as you are.
Basically, contentment is a lot deeper than you might initially think. The word itself is derived from the Latin word contentus, which means “held together” “intact,” or “whole.” My Internet research tells me that the word was originally used to describe containers. As in vessels, as in things like vases, pitchers, buckets, and cups. And it meant there were essentially water-tight. Over time, it became a word that could describe a person. And in that case it means someone who feels complete, with no desires beyond themselves.
OK, let’s talk about the components to contentment.
Contentment is comprised of:
Satisfaction — what’s in front of you is at least basically OK
Acceptance — you’re not grasping or yearning for something else
Awareness of the present moment — contentment isn’t going to come wave its arms in your face or hit you over the head. It’s hiding in plain sight and all you need to do to recognize it is take a moment to observe your state of being.
We spend an awful lot of time and energy on pursuing happiness in our culture
After all, it’s baked into the Bill of Rights — the right to pursue happiness. We take that very seriously, especially in the personal development world! But happiness I think is kind of a high bar. I mean, yes, I want to experience moments of happiness but the thought of trying to maintain that state just makes me tired.
Should I be happy while washing dishes? While writing podcast episodes? While driving kids around town? To me, contentment seems a more abiding state, and a more doable bar. I can’t always will myself in to feeling happy or joyful, but I can focus on acceptance, which breeds contentment. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that being basically OK is a very fine place to be.
Of course, contentment could prevent you from pursuing new things that could increase your happiness.
I’m all for doing new things and increasing happiness, so it’s a balance. But maybe contentment can still play an important role in going after those new things, which is the abiding knowledge that it’s not the thing itself that provides happiness, and that no matter what happens, you will be basically OK.
And it can help you not get attached to something specific, because honestly, humans aren’t that great at knowing what will make them happy. We just aren’t good at imagining good things that we haven’t experienced yet. So if you want to change jobs because you believe it will make you happier, well… it might, or it might not. But if you can stay connected to your own inherent wholeness–and practice acceptance and satisfaction along the way–even if the job itself doesn’t provide the happiness boost you’re looking for, you won’t be knocked sideways by it. You’ll be able to stay connected to your trust in yourself to go with the flow and keep looking for the situation that will ultimately contribute to greater happiness for you.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Think about the things you might have in your mind that you need before you can be happy. Maybe it’s money in the bank, or a project to be completed or a new job to be secured or something else. And then just challenge them a little bit. Can you remind yourself that you are already whole, just as you are? Sure, these extra things will be nice, but they’re not vital to your OK-ness, which comes from within, and not from some external circumstance, no matter how desirable and even needed it may seem. Can you try to achieve contentment with what is?
To do this, it can help to think about a time when you were aware of feeling content.
For me, I think of a time when we took a last minute trip down to Florida to escape the winter
And we finally arrived got checked in to the time share. (And weaseled out of the sales pitch even after I said I’d love a free breakfast.) We got into our bathing suits and down to the pool. The kids were old enough to swim without me needing to be hovering by the edge of the pool. And I had a lounge chair in the sun. I felt warm in my chest and belly arms and legs. I felt pleasantly heavy, like I had a lead apron on at the dentist.
So I can imagine experiencing that physical sensation even as I’m sitting here, typing away at a co-working space, trying to get these podcast episodes written before my time in the podcast studio opens up.
And you can imagine feeling how YOU felt when you had a noticeable moment of contentment. Even now, when your x, y, and z conditions for “I’ll be a lot happier when…” statements are met.
I hope you have a great weekend, and be sure to come back next week, when we’re taking a look at new ways to think about health.