Cultivating Contentment -The Secret to a Happy Simple Life
I love a good dinner. Spaghetti and meatballs with wine and some Dean Martin playing in the background is my happy place.
That feeling when you are full and you’ve laughed with your family and enjoyed a good meal is hard to beat.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could feel that way all the time? How can we? By cultivating contentment every day.
Why Is Cultivating Contentment So Hard?
That feeling of contentment is amazing but it seems so elusive. One second we have it and the next minute it slips away. Why is that?
Part of it has to do with how our minds work. Because of the phenomenon known as the Hedonic treadmill, we quickly adapt to new things. That’s great! It’s what makes us so resilient. But it also makes it so that we are always looking for something new to spark all the pretty neurons in our brains.
Combine that with the consumer society we live in and we get into a vicious cycle. We are told, and often believe, that we NEED new things to make us happy. Constantly ads, societal norms, and even friends and family tell us that we will be happy WHEN we get the next new thing.
Last but not least, that beautiful feeling of contentment is hard to get because we feel like we are lacking something. It’s hard enough to stay positive. But then our own insecurities make us feel that we need something to make us better. We compare ourselves with others, with what we see on TV and social media, and with our own ideals. That gives us a feeling of lack we just can’t seem to fill.
Why Should We Start Cultivating Contentment?
Some people might argue that this constant need for improvement is a good thing. They say it’s what fuels innovation and achievement. It makes the world go round.
But do we really have to feel discontent to make good things happen? Does it really help?
Let me ask you something. How much do you get done when you are REALLY REALLY hungry? What is your mood like? Do you feel energized or drained? Are you fun to be around? Or do you get HANGRY?
If you are like me you feel weak, tired, brainless, and crabby when you are hungry. You can’t think of anything else and you are no fun to be around. It’s definitely not a recipe for productivity or innovation.
That’s why we need to start cultivating contentment. Because when you aren’t content it’s just like being hangry. You are sad, frustrated, tired, and unproductive. But when you are full, or content, you are energized, happy, positive, productive, and fun to be around! Better than that, you actually like your life for a change!
So let’s talk about some steps you need to take to start cultivating contentment.
Start Cultivating Contentment by Appreciating What You Already Have
The first step in cultivating contentment is to start noticing and appreciating how much you already have.
Look around you and answer these questions:
- Do you have a roof over your head?
- Have you eaten today?
- Are you clean?
- Do you have friends and family?
- Are there fun and pretty things in your house?
- What are you reading this blog on? A device?
Ok, what were your answers? If you answered yes to all of those questions you already have a lot more than tons of people. You are fortunate to have been born into a situation that affords you those privileges. In fact, you probably have all that and a lot more.
Now you just have to get in the habit of appreciating it. One way to do that is to write a gratitude journal. That will help you look for things you appreciate.
Another way to cultivate appreciation is to declutter your home. That might sound crazy. But sometimes it takes seeing your abundance and letting go to appreciate your situation in life.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Now that you know how much you have and you appreciate it you feel great right? But before long you look around and you see that there are still things that you don’t have that others do.
Look at this list and tell me if have ever felt this way:
- My friend just got the latest iPhone. I wish I could get one too.
- When will I be able to get a nice car like my boss?
- Maybe we should buy a big house like the “Joneses”.
- My clothes are so boring compared to her clothes.
- I wish we could go take a huge vacation like my sister and her family.
- Maybe if I bought something on Amazon I would feel happier.
- I deserve to “treat myself”.
Do you know what all of those statements have in common? They are all very negative. Not only do they make you feel bad about what you don’t have, but they also make you envious of others. At the same time, you are forgetting the nice things you do have.
Comparison is the death of happiness. If you want to start cultivating contentment in life you need to stop comparing yourself to others.
This may mean taking a break from social media where people only show the best of the best parts of their life. You may also need to go back to step one and look for ways to cultivate gratitude for all the wonderful things you already have.
Even if you are doing your best not to compare yourself to others you will still face pressure to want more and more. That’s because we live in a consumer culture that relies on everyone buying WAY more than they need.
You are going to have to find ways to avoid that pressure. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Walk away when ads come on your TV or mute it and talk to someone.
- Never click on Ads on Instagram, Facebook, Etc. The more you click the more you will be shown.
- Unsubscribe from e-mails from stores, especially your favorites. They will suck you in with sales and credits but there are always sales and when you really need something you will find them.
- Immediately throw away paper fliers that come in the mail for the same reason.
- Reduce your use of social media and television altogether. Read more and pursue hobbies.
These tips should help you avoid late-night shopping binges, desperate fomo purchases, and a house full of junk that doesn’t work as well “as seen on TV”.
Start Cultivating Contentment in Conversation
Now that you have limited your exposure to advertisements that tell you that you are not complete until you buy something you should be good right? Not so quick!
Remember those sentences you tell yourself above. Most of those have to do with people you actually know and what they have or are doing.
Most of our envy and drive to buy stuff is actually fueled by our associates. We want to keep up with the Joneses because that’s what is normal in our society. So how can you fight the desire to buy new stuff just because someone you know has it?
Here are a few things you can do:
- When friends and coworkers are talking about purchases shift the conversation to talk about ideas or experiences.
- If your friends buy a house think about all the benefits of your current living situation and why you chose it. (You don’t have to do repairs and a lot of yard work, it’s cheaper, etc)
- When your friends get a new phone or tech gadget think about what you already have and if it is functioning as you need it to. Odds are you don’t need something new just for newness’ sake.
- If you feel like your clothes are boring shop your closet and revive some things you haven’t worn in a while.
- When you are jealous of someone else going on vacation either start saving for your own or take a smaller vacation or even a staycation!
- When you are bored and sad don’t do an Amazon shopping spree. Do something active or creative or call a friend or do some self-care.
Simply shifting the conversation or your mindset will help you avoid “buying stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t like”. In the end, it will save you a lot of regrets and keep you out of debt. You will stay on track with your real goals.
You can shift the conversation with family that isn’t minimalist with you and eventually they may join you!
If you find that you have friends that are just completely consumed with buying new stuff all the time and talking about it, it might be time to find new friends who are more interested in experiences and ideas.
Disconnect Self-Worth From External Markers
Now we are getting into some important deep work. If you are still having a hard time cultivating contentment you may need to examine your inner self. Is it possible that you are tying your self-worth to external markers?
It would be totally normal if you did. That’s what our entire consumer society wants us to do. We don’t mean to but we often tie our self-worth to what kind of car we drive, the neighborhood we live in, the price of our tennis shoes, and the prestige of our job.
Trust me, I’m a cleaning lady who has always driven used cars that are at least 10 years old. I know that it can be difficult not to tie your self-worth to those external markers. But if I had done that I wouldn’t feel very good about myself.
So how can you improve your self-worth and disconnect it from how much money you make or what you own? You can shift your perspective and come up with your own definition of success.
Here are some ways to build your self-worth:
- Instead of thinking about an IDEAL future, think about how far you have come and the progress that you have already made in life.
- Define success by how you stick to your personal integrity or set of standards of right and wrong.
- Think of at least three internal qualities you possess that you are proud of.
- Pick at least one external feature you like about yourself.
- Remember that people will not remember what you wore or drove. They will remember how you made them feel. If you are kind and bring happiness to others you are successful.
- Think about the goals you want to achieve in life and work on learning and working towards those instead of the arbitrary appearance of wealth.
When you focus on these more important things and tie your self-worth to your qualities and your personal goals you jump out of the competition mindset.
Instead, you will be able to see your good qualities and the progress you make every day. You will only compete with yourself and you will always be working towards your true authentic goals. This in turn will help you have contentment in life.
Focus on People & Experiences
Cultivating contentment is an integral part of living the minimalist lifestyle. You have to find a way to stop the constant need for more.
But here’s the thing. Have you ever taken a toy away from a toddler? They don’t like it very much! Unless you replace what you took away with something else. Then they are happy.
So what can you replace the need for more money and stuff with? How can you start cultivating contentment with what you already have so you don’t constantly need more? You can replace the need with something much more satisfying. You can start focusing on experiences and the people you can do them with.
Here are a few ways to replace consumerism with experiences and people:
- Instead of going to the mall take a nice walk with your family or a friend.
- When you are bored, instead of cruising Amazon, try learning a language or a new skill.
- At times of celebration think about something fun you can do with the person celebrating instead of buying a gift.
- Instead of thinking of what you might need next think of what someone else might need and get it or make it for them.
- Pursue volunteer work you are passionate about.
- Join a local club or class to learn something new like a sport, an art form, or dancing.
- Instead of buying souvenirs on trips splurge on a fun experience like zip-lining, a cooking class, a sightseeing tour, or wine-tasting. You name it!
When you start looking for experiences to fill your time you will start having a lot more fun in life! If you include people and look for ways to help others your life will become extremely meaningful.
If Your Having Trouble Cultivating Contentment Take Time for Self-Care and Be Creative
All the tips above should help you start cultivating contentment. But there will still be times when you are not feeling happy with where you are.
These feelings could come up because you feel exhausted and overworked. You may feel like you’re pulling too much of the weight at work or in the family. Or you could just have an antsy mind that is too negatively creative for its own good. I know I struggle with that.
If that sounds like you, it’s time to take some time for rest, self-care, and creativity.
Taking the time to pamper yourself, take care of your health, and get needed rest is very important. Stop thinking of it as optional. Without it, you will burn out. Take the time to give yourself what you need for self-care and you will feel refreshed and thankful rather than put upon.
For me, an essential part of my self-care is taking time for creative hobbies. It helps me ease my anxious mind and redirect my worries. When I have been creative regularly I feel more content and happy with my life. When was the last time you did something creative? Is there a creative hobby you used to love but haven’t taken time for in a while?
Here are some ideas to help you include self-care and creativity in your life:
- Take a break for a cup of tea and a book.
- Make a coffee date with a friend.
- Paint your toes, take a bath, and do all that fun spa stuff.
- Put a daily walk in your schedule.
- Put down your phone and enjoy a few moments of doing nothing.
- Write in a gratitude journal.
- Pick up an instrument and try to practice regularly.
- Paint something, anything, just paint!
- Play with clay.
- Take a dance class with your spouse or a friend or by yourself or on YouTube!
- Plant a garden.
- Make jewelry, sew something, crochet or knit, or do some other crafty thing.
You will be surprised how much self-care and creativity will help you feel content in life. A lack of contentment often springs from something inside us that we aren’t taking care of. When you take a little time for calm and creativity it can cure a lot!
Start Cultivating Contentment and Notice How Good You Feel!
So now that you have some solid steps you can take to start cultivating contentment you can put them to work in your life. Start noticing all the abundance in your life instead of focusing on scarcity.
Soon you will feel content in your life and you will be much happier. You will no longer worry about what the Joneses have and you will no longer be looking for the next great thing.
Cultivating contentment will improve your self-worth and make you a lot more fun to be around.
Remember at the beginning when I compared contentment to a great Italian meal with my family? It’s a great feeling. And when your start cultivating contentment you can feel that warm happy feeling all the time. Take the time to notice and enjoy it!
How do you cultivate contentment? Please share in the comments below!
Start Enjoying Simple Living
Do you want to enjoy a simple life? Are you interest in the minimalist lifestyle? Do you think you could be content with less stress and less clutter?
If the simple life appeals to you but the big bad word “Minimalism” scares you I am here to help. I wrote an e-book called Doable Simplicity (minimalism for normal people) to help you simplify your home, your schedule, and your chores so you can start spending your time making your dreams come true!
good ideas. You help me keep decluttering.