What is contentment?
Contentment is defined as “the state of being satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” This definition can be misleading. You might say well when I have _____ then I will be content. Or I will be content when I _____. Do you see the pattern? Contentment does not come to those who think they just need to try a little harder or earn a bit more. Contentment is the state of being satisfied in spite of what you have or who you are.
You might be wondering “how is that different from happiness?” Well, unlike contentment, happiness is largely dependent on our external circumstances. If I get an ice cream cone, then I am happy. If I eat it too slowly and the ice cream scoop falls on the ground, then I am not happy (and my wife is very unhappy). On the other hand, contentment is a mindset. Our context does not define our contentment. Many wealthy individuals are not content, and many poor people are satisfied with their lives.
Why should I care about contentment?
So what does all of this mean for you? Well, here are some questions that might help you reflect on your life and determine if practicing contentment might be valuable.
- Does the length of your to-do list overwhelm you? Life never seems to slow down. We try to plan ahead and fit everything into our schedule, but there is never enough time. We have to give up this lie that we need to be doing more if we want to succeed. Practicing contentment can help us focus on what is important and say no to everything else.
- Do you feel self-conscious about what people think of you? We hold ourselves to impossible standards and are quick to criticize our failed attempts. The ideal image, outlined for us on tv, is not real and not worth striving after. When we are able to let go of this image of perfection, we will be able to appreciate our uniqueness and be confident in ourselves.
- Is it difficult for you to make decisions? Everybody likes to have options, but sometimes it can be paralyzing to choose the best one. Should I buy or rent, take job A or B, spend time with family or hang out with friends? FOMO anyone? If our satisfaction is not based on external circumstances, then we will not be crippled by a fear of making the wrong choice. We will have an objective perspective and not worry about missing out.
- Can you be happy for someone else? It is hard not to be jealous when we are constantly bombarded with pictures of a friends new dream house or extravagant vacation. If you are content with yourself, then you will not feel the need to constantly compare yourself to others. Instead, you can love and encourage them.
- What happens when things do not go your way? Do plans gone awry easily frustrate you? Are you afraid of losing control and unsure if you are capable of handling an unexpected outcome? Contentment stems from an internal mindset that is not altered by the best-laid plans falling through.
How do I start being content?
Contentment is simple. There are no prerequisites to start being content now. Still, do not expect contentedness to come easy. I will share a couple things that have helped me. Do not overwhelm yourself. Try to focus on one at a time.
- Tiny gratitudes. Multiple studies have proven the benefits of gratitude. Still, it is easy to go throughout the day unaware of our many blessings (a warm meal, a smiling stranger, a good conversation). If we do not pay attention, we will miss out on the joy they bring us. Take time each day to be thankful for the good things, and you will be less concerned with what you lack.
- Be aware of your thoughts. A life of contentedness is not natural. Advertising has taught your brain to seek satisfaction from our surroundings (purchases, experiences, accomplishments). Remember, contentment is a mindset that is independent of our external circumstances. When you recognize discontentment developing, ask yourself why and commit to addressing it.
- Limit social media use. Among people I have interviewed, comparison is the most prevalent source of dissatisfaction. We always compare our insecurities to the seemingly perfect lives of everyone else on Facebook. You are unique. You are special. Do not let the rose colored Instagram filters fool you.
- Put others first. The best way to stop focusing on what you lack is to start thinking about what others need. Commit time each day to love someone else through a text, card, or conversation. Talk to a coworker about their weekend, text a friend an encouraging note, or ask a cashier how their day is going. Be intentional and give them your full attention while you listen.
- Eliminate as much as possible. The more things in your house and on your to do list the harder it will be to be content. Possessions take away our time, money, and attention all while adding clutter to our lives. The same goes for our daily/weekly/monthly commitments. If you want time to focus on what is important than remove what is not. Do not sell your washing machine or give up family game night. Instead, maybe sell or donate your old clothes and stop watching TV every day.
- Go outside. I will leave it at this. “Keep close to natures heart…And break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
- Slow down. Take time do things properly. Try to focus on one thing at a time and appreciate what you are doing, seeing, or experiencing. See #1.
- Seek God. When I am struggling with contentment, I always go to God. I ask for perspective to see how insignificant the source of my discontentment is in the scheme of his plan for my life. It is comforting to know that His love for me is not dependent on what I do or own.
Call to action
If you found this article helpful, check out my free 3-Day Contentment Challenge. You will learn 3 simple techniques to help you recognize the source of your discontentment and eliminate it.