Wikipedia tells us that Contentment is an emotional state of satisfaction that can be seen as a mental state drawn from being at ease in one’s situation, body and mind. And the Merriam Webster dictionary offers this as the definition of content: feeling or showing satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.
So, my question for you today is this – why aren’t we content? Why do we seem to be struggling (relentlessly) to do more, have more, and be more??
Another way to ask that question is, why do we worry about what we’re missing in life (FOMO) – yes, people really do experience the fear of missing out. What do we think is out there offering a BETTER experience than the one we’re rejecting as “not quite good enough?”
I’m not talking about people whose lives are genuinely difficult – the people who live in tents in the park, or the folks who are waiting outside the food bank for it to open so they can feed their kids, or those struggling to decide which bill not to pay this month, in the hope that the lights will continue to glow, and the water will continue to flow. They are likely not reading this blog!
I’m also not talking about people with a diagnosed mental illness, like dysthymia – which manifests as a low-grade, persistent depression. All the self-help in the world isn’t going to change brain chemistry that needs a prescription drug or psychotherapy – if that’s where you find yourself, please reach out for real help!
Most of us, however, aren’t in such serious circumstances. While we may have encountered times in our lives when our security and survival was threatened, it is unlikely that we find ourselves there today.
So why are WE discontent?
Why are we not at ease in our situation, body, and mind?
Here are six common reasons why we get caught up in what I call “less-than” thinking that leads to this state of discontent with our otherwise perfectly amazing lives, and some suggestions for moving out of discontent. . .
- We’re not grateful for what we have (own, enjoy, experience, encounter or can access) – we’re just not paying attention in a way that permits us to know the wonder of appreciation for all that fills our lives each day! A simple strategy is to start a gratitude journal – just write down three things each day that you genuinely are grateful for. After a week or so, that list is hard to ignore. Life is pretty amazing!
- We leave things unfinished – projects, promises, intentions – all the things we “start” but don’t conclude. And therein lies the seed of dissatisfaction, the inability to see success in a completed piece of work! How many things have you begun and then, set aside for some other time? Now might be the perfect time to bring them out (one by one) and either finish them or remove them from your should, ought or must list permanently. Maybe that endeavor is simply not for you! Okay, let it go! Satisfaction, or contentment, lies in the joy of seeing the project through to completion!
- We sell ourselves short or over-reach– that is, we don’t aim for anything really exciting and motivating in our lives OR we set impossible, unrealistic goals and then sit in our sadness that we didn’t accomplish all that we’d hoped. The strategy here is to reach realistically! Make your goals SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-oriented). Then, genuinely celebrate even the most modest successes!
- We don’t live in the present moment – we get caught up in some future scenario, “When I’m 20 pounds lighter, then I’ll be happy!” and miss the opportunity to be completely satisfied with who we are TODAY. Or we’re stuck in some romanticized version of the past, “When I was a kid, everything was wonderful!” and we fail to see the amazingly splendid realities all around us TODAY. The present moment is the only time to experience contentment – it’s waiting for you to come back to the moment and see what’s right in front of you!
- We’re not managing our energy reserves – whether that’s the result of poor eating habits or poor sleep hygiene, your mind and body are running on empty and as a result, everything you encounter feels disappointing. Now is the time to change those self-destructive patterns and realize that energy is a resource that has to be renewed each day – it’s your job as a living, breathing human – don’t neglect it!
- We’re stuck in a story that doesn’t serve us! The narrative that runs through our brains is full of negativity, of criticism, of insufficiency. And we forget that it is just a story! It doesn’t represent the truth, not in an objective, healthy way! So, the thing to do is shift perspective and create a NEW story – one that leans heavily into that growing gratitude list – one that finds joy in little things, that revels in the beauty of nature, and engages in surprisingly positive random acts of kindness!
I wish you a week filled with the deep realization that life is good, the genuine experience of all the amazing people, places, ideas, and events you encounter – that you can deeply drink them in! Notice them while they’re unfolding and add them to the gratitude journal you write in each day.
Contentment, that capacity to be at ease in our situation, body, and mind, is an inside-job! It’s about shifting your perspective and recognizing how, when we truly savor all that we have (friends, work, joys, encounters, surprises) the worry about what might be missing can truly melt away!
Live well, my friends. And let me know if I can help!