Many people seek happiness as their goal in life. Happiness is ephemeral – it comes and goes. More enduring is a sense of contentment. Once developed, contentment remains throughout life. It’s a feeling, a sense of faith in yourself and your place in the world. Fundamentally, it is an unshakeable belief that you have the personal resources to deal with anything life throws at you. If you wonder whether you are contented there is a good chance you are not. Contented people are at peace with themselves. You can see it. They can feel it.
How can you overcome your restlessness and find serenity? You cannot will it to happen. You can begin questioning your current beliefs and develop new attitudes. Here are keys that will open you to contentment:
- Realise that contentment does not mean having everything you want. In fact, having it all works against being contented. We need purpose in our lives. The desire to have new experiences, learn new skills, build some structure, create some artwork or possess some material thing is essential to feeling contented.
- Create perspective. Many contented people are older. In fact, researchers found that we are our happiest between the ages of 65 and 75. Why? Because older folk have lived enough of life to know that everything changes, including depressing lows and desperate crises. Imagine your life as a continuum from birth to death. Float up high where you can look at all of the ups and downs of your life. You can see that, with time, everything passes.
- Learn to grieve. Grieving is a skill like any other. It can be learned. Once you have this skill you can face most problems, disappointments and losses. It still hurts but you know how to handle it. You know that accepting your emotions enables them to pass. A psychologist who specialises in emotional issues can help you here.
- Take responsibility for your own happiness. Don’t wait to be rescued and don’t waste your time rescuing others. Focus primarily on yourself. Fulfil your needs first and then you will have some time and energy to support others.
- Engender flexibility. This means being able to react to all situations in an appropriate way. If the situation requires a certain rigidity, you respond firmly. If flexibility is needed you can do that too. The same with all human characteristics, for example, impulsivity and responsibility, fun and seriousness, generosity and frugality, freedom and restraint. You can take action anywhere on each continuum, depending on the situation with which you are confronted.
- Create balance in your life. We have a number of basic needs and each of these must be met. Allocate time to physical activity, a creative pursuit of some sort, rest or meditation, some form of intellectual stimulation, friends for companionship, and creating and maintaining mutual love and respect from your family.
- Enjoy your own company. What things do you like doing alone? Walking on a beach, artistic activity, reading, listening to music, other hobbies. Feeling comfortable alone is essential. We cannot always be in the company of others.
- Find appropriate physical contact. We all need to touch and be touched. If you have no children or partner, consider getting an affectionate pet.
- Experience pleasure and beauty in small, simple things. A sunset, the smell of blossoms, a change in the weather, a walk, a cup of tea. Never take anything or anyone for granted.
- Assess yourself realistically. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Accept your limitations and mistakes. No human is perfect!
- Develop self-discipline about chores and do them cheerfully. We all have things that we have to do whether we want to or not. Don’t make a fuss, don’t say: “I hate this.” Rather tell yourself “This chore is no big deal, I can do it easily and it’ll be nice to have it finished.”
- Realise that change is inevitable and stressful. Acknowledging that change is stressful makes it easier to deal with. You don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself. You know you will be upset and emotional. Instead of berating yourself you can be kind and a little self-indulgent. You know that, with time, you will get through it.
- Surround yourself with supportive people. Through sentiment or obligation we sometimes put up with friends or relatives who are burdensome. To be content you need to have a supportive family and supportive friends. If some of your family and friends seem oppressive, review the amount of contact you have with them. Increase contact with those who are supportive and decrease it with those who are not.
- Enjoy your work. Contented people value their work. It is hard to beat getting up and looking forward to the day. If you are unhappy in your job or career you have two choices: Change it or accept it and find some enjoyment in it.