While the “gimmes” seem to come naturally for most of us, contentment seems elusive and difficult to attain and maintain in our lives. Contentment impacts our satisfaction with life, sense of peace and sense of who we are as individuals. Contentment is the ability to be at peace with who you are, where you are and what you are doing.
Contentment is a group of skills we must learn and practice over a lifetime in order to be effective. Contentment requires changing your thoughts and actions until you adopt the idea that no one thing or activity will magically make you content. By incorporating the following activities into your daily life, you can create an environment which cultivates contentment in your life.
Set Realistic Expectations.
The world around us is designed to create a sense of need in our lives. No matter how much we have, Western culture encourages us to want and spend more. This causes us to set unrealistic expectations.
In contrast, when we set realistic expectations for ourselves around what we have, what we need and what we do, it cultivates a sense of contentment.
This starts with identifying the difference between a want and a need.
While there are many things we want or would like, there are fewer things we actually need. While it isn’t wrong to want things, it is important to recognize we don’t NEED them to be okay.
As long as our needs are met, we can be okay and this is an important fact to embrace.
- Take time to reflect on whether your desire is a want or a need.
- Assure yourself that you are not wrong to want things.
- Recognize that you will be okay if you don’t have everything on your want list.
Examine Why You Want More.
We have the ability to get what we want, when we want it. The Internet allows us to shop 24/7. We can connect to friends whenever we want by text and phone. Credit allows us to create our dream life even when it is beyond what we can afford right now.
Taking time to stop and ask yourself, “Why do I want this?” allows you to examine what need you believe the current desire will fulfill.
Why do I want a new job? Why do I want to call my ex-wife right now? Why do I want my child to go to this college? Why do I want a new car? Why do I want another candy bar?
Ask yourself these questions will help you determine the real need and attend to the need instead of masking it with a temporary pleasure.
- Ask yourself, “Why do I want this?”
- Ask yourself, “What do I believe will be different if I get this?”
Decelerate Acting on Your Desires.
It is important to learn how to manage your desires rather than simply acting on them. Western culture teaches us “if it feels good, do it” and “if I want it, I should have it.” Neither of these facilitate managing our desires and, as a result, most of us live controlled by the latest desire.
After considering why we want something, the next step is to determine if we need the thing we desire right now. We don’t need most things immediately.
Making it a practice to wait even thirty minutes prior to acting upon a desire helps you master your desires.
- Pick one area of your life to practice waiting 30 minutes before acting on your desire.
- Gradually expand the areas of your life where you practice this skill until it becomes the new pattern for your decisions.
Count Your Blessings.
It is impossible to develop contentment without learning to be grateful for what you already have. Learning to focus on the good things in your life is essential.
Sometimes the good appears dwarfed by the bad we are facing, but the good remains. Slowing down and looking for the good regularly moves us toward contentment even when bad swirls around us. A few ideas to help you focus on the good include:
- Take time at supper or before bed to talk about the good things in your life as a family to develop the practice of being grateful.
- Keep a gratitude journal to practice the habit of focusing on the good in your life.
Contentment doesn’t have a magic formula, and there is no test to say you have achieved contentment. Instead, contentment is a skill. When you practice setting realistic expectations, counting your blessings, identifying why you want things and learning to control acting upon your desire, you strengthen your contentment “muscle” and move yourself toward a life of contentment.
Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 when she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. She has worked for Pine Rest since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and the Hastings Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director.