A large part of happiness involves learning to be content in your present circumstances. This is very hard to do in a society that constantly encourages us to pus for the next promotion, buy a bigger home or always be ‘living our best life’.
Comparison on social media has been a dagger to the heart of contentment, and no doubt has contributed to a lot of depression in society. But how does one become content? It’s easy to say ‘be happy with what you have’ but it’s very difficult to actually do it. Here are some practical steps you can take to move towards contentment and happiness.
Reject When-Then Thinking
When-then thinking is the mindset which says ‘WHEN I get [insert thing], THEN I’ll be happy’. When I graduate highschool, get married, have kids, get promoted, make 6 figures, retire and the list goes on. There’s only one problem, it’s not true.
The easiest way to realize this is to look back on periods in your life when you were longing for things you now have and thought would make you happy and realize that you feel the same now as you do then.
It’s actually the people who get what they always wanted who often experience depression because they soon realize after a brief high they feel the same way they did before. This happened to Michael Phelps, the most decorated olympic swimmer of all time, when he experienced ‘post-olympic depression’.
So how does one reject when-then thinking? By refusing to believe the lie that when X happens you’ll be happy, and committing to be content with what you have now. Part of the secret of contentment is not comparing yourself to others.
Comparison Crushes Contentment
On social media people are constantly posting about their lives at the most ideal moments, captured, edited and curated. These produce feelings of FOMO and envy in others. You’ve probably noticed this effect, and thought ‘wow that vacation in Hawaii looks amazing!’.
As we all know, because we also post the highlights, reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. People are going through the same struggles as you, and what they present on social media is a narrative not reality.
Reducing or completely eliminating your social media time will work wonders for not comparing with others. But even if you do that the opportunity to compare will still rear its ugly head. When it does, turn your mind away from what you don’t have, and focus on what you do have and cherish. Practising gratitude will supercharge your contentment.
It may be a bit cliche to say “be grateful for what you have” but it’s true. Millions of people who are extremely poor are grateful for what little they have. Your grandparents most likely had less access to wealth and opportunities than you did, but were also probably more grateful for them.
Take some time each morning to say or write 5 things you are grateful for. When you feel tempted to self-pity or comparison, bring to mind people you love or simple pleasures you enjoy as a barricade against envy and scarcity thinking.
Even when life is crashing down on you, you can still be thankful for being alive. Life is a gift and as long as there is breath in your lungs there is hope for the future. An important element of hope is having a sense of purpose in your daily life.
Purpose comes Before Contentment
When people think of purpose their mind usually goes to career or some great contribution to science or political change, but that’s not the most important kind of purpose. Most people find purpose and meaning through relationships, and the longest study ever conducted showed this is the most important factor for long-term factor for health and wellness.
If you want to find purpose in relationships then pour out your life in service to others. When you give your energy and talents to people it develops close bonds that last a lifetime and takes your mind off the self-focus that can sap joy.
When you have a purpose that is grounded in relationship rather than accumulating material wealth contentment comes naturally. However, even deep relationships can lose their lustre if they are not cherished and savoured with intentionality and focus.
Give Others Your Full Attention
We are so distracted by our phones, work, TV and commitments that we’ve become terrible listeners. This has caused our relationships to weaken and become superficial. Not only that but we can’t even enjoy the time we do spend with others because for most of it our mind is somewhere else.
When others are around, whether at a planned gathering with friends, or on the lineup in the grocery store, put your phone away and connect with those around you. Smile and ask them how their day was.
Take a moment to pet their dog, and give their kid a high-five. You’ll be transported out of the captivity of your mind and the doom-scrolling of the 24 hour news cycle to a vibrant community all around you that was there all along.
How Do I Balance Contentment with Ambition?
Balancing contentment with ambition is tricky. What if you are a hungry entrepreneur and being unsatisfied fuels your business growth mindset? What if you love growing and learning, and it propels you to constantly challenge yourself?
There is nothing wrong with these endeavours, and they are for the most part positive for mental wellness. It’s when we attach our identity or happiness to those outcomes that we are unable to practise contentment. If growing my business becomes my reason for being than when it’s not doing well I will become depressed.
The secret is to find a balance, and not allow any one activity to take over too much of your time. Where you put your money is where your heart will gravitate towards. Make sure it’s always leans toward investing in people rather than things.