The 7 Steps For Increasing Contentment
“Contentment is an inner sense of satisfaction that is not dependent on external factors.” Andrew Weil
We confuse contentment with happiness and joy, but contentment is not tied to emotions. It has nothing to do with the ego and its desires or disappointments. Contentment is a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. It’s an equilibrium that is not knocked off-kilter by the vagaries of life. Contentment, initially, may be ephemeral, especially when we’re buffeted by the winds of change or difficult circumstances. But we can develop contentment.
Here are some ways to do so.
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1) Start small
Build contentment muscles by practicing on the small upsets, interruptions, and distractions of life. Like a weight training program, you don’t begin by lifting the heavyweights. You gradually increase the weight as you develop strength and endurance. The same is true for contentment.
Start small by practicing contentment with your day to day routine. When your routine is interrupted when you’re running late, when the kids won’t cooperate, or when the boss drops a big project in your lap, instead of getting upset, practice contentment. Pause, take a breath, and let go. Surrender to what is. Don’t dwell on what could be or should be because what could or should be is clearly not happening at that moment. Swimming against the tide is a sure way to drown.
When stuff hits the fan and you’re dealing with a serious, maybe life-altering situation, having developed a contentment practice on the “small” things, on the daily mundane disruptions and upsets, will make it easier to be adaptable and resilient and, yes, maintain your sense of contentment.
2) Practice surrender
Surrender does not mean giving up. It’s having faith and trusting that everything happens for our soul’s highest and best good. It’s believing that we don’t have all the answers while trusting that a Higher Power has our back. It’s relinquishing the illusion of control. We don’t have control anyway, so why pretend that we do?
3) Practice nonattachment
Contentment “is respecting the reality of the moment” (Pearce, Jacqueline. “The Essence of Contentment: How Acceptance Promotes Happiness.”, GoodTherapy Blog, 11 Sept. 2019).
Accepting the reality of the moment, what is real here and now, requires us to practice nonattachment to our desire for a certain outcome or circumstance. Nonattachment means we relinquish the results of our efforts. It doesn’t mean we don’t care or try our best. It means we accept whatever happens, knowing that we did try our best. We don’t get upset because things didn’t turn out the way we envisioned. We “respect the reality of the moment”, let go, and move on.
4) Practice equanimity
Equanimity is defined by Merriam-Webster as “evenness of mind especially under stress” (“equanimity” (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equanimity).
Equanimity allows us to roll with the tides. Life is not static and would be pretty boring if it was. The one constant about life is that change happens. Every day brings changes, surprises, and a need for adaptability. The result can be stress, confusion, irritability, impatience, and a sense of life out of control.
One word about change. The soul never changes; everything in mortal life does. Overcome your fear of change and embrace novelty. Know that your core Self is not affected by the changes going on around it. Ground yourself in that fact so, when change inevitably occurs, you can approach it with equanimity and contentment.
5) Practice gratitude
Gratitude helps us to see the positives in our life. We count our blessings and give thanks and, in doing so, we experience gratitude. List weekly, or daily if need be, all the things you’re grateful for. When you’re grateful you focus on the good things, not the things or situations where you feel a sense of lack. Focus on what you have to be grateful for, not on what you feel is missing from your life. One way to experience gratitude is through service and helping others.
6) Be internally focused
Look within for true contentment. Contentment is an inside job. It’s not dependent on externals. It’s not dependent on having a certain car, or a bigger house, or a high-powered job. Those things may bring you happiness and maybe they’ll just bring you stress, but they’re not what causes contentment.
Comparing ourselves to others is a sure way to experience discontent because it seems there’s always at least one area where we fall short. Instead, dedicate yourself to growth and learning. You can always grow spiritually and as a person. To not do so is to become stagnant and die. Meditation is a wonderful practice to learn how to be internally focused. If you’re a yogi, you’re already meditating. If you’re not a yogi, you can learn to meditate anyway. It’s well worth it.
7) Remember the serenity prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.
Contentment is not complacency, but there are a lot of circumstances we can’t change, and beating your head against the wall won’t help. That’s basically what you’re doing when you persist in trying to control that which you can’t. This is where surrender comes in and acknowledges that there are some things outside your control. You can tie yourself in knots trying to change those circumstances, or you can be accepting and direct your energy to those things you CAN change.
Remember, contentment is an inner state you carry with you and is not dependent on outside events and situations. You can learn to be content in all circumstances. It won’t always be easy, and you won’t always be successful. Don’t give up. Wholeness is not invested in perfection; it’s invested in spiritual growth. Attaining a sense of contentment will serve you well while living through the ups and downs life brings.
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