“Rich is he who remains content through success or failure.”
I sometimes wish I could magically whizz back in time and share what I’ve learned about being content with my younger self.
Maybe I could have saved him a whole load of unnecessary suffering?
Like most people, he had a lot of inner resistance to life.
He had so many set ideas about how life SHOULD be and how he SHOULD be — ideas that were either at odds with reality or impossible to live up to.
When things didn’t go his way, he’d take it personally and feel that life was against him. He was never happy with how he was. He was forever comparing himself with others.
In short, he believed there were a lot of things ‘wrong’ with himself and with his world — and naturally, didn’t experience much contentment as a result.
So what would I like to say to him if I could teleport back for a chat?
Here are a few things that spring to mind:
- You are perfectly acceptable just as you are. Everybody, without exception, is messed up in some way or other. It’s called being human. Go easy on yourself.
- Don’t compare yourself with anyone. You have no idea what hidden struggles others are going through.
- Accepting ‘what is’ is the key to finding inner peace and contentment. Since you have no control over the events that happen in your life, try to embrace them rather than fight them.
- Life is impersonal. There are no ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ experiences. Challenges are what make you stronger. Setbacks are sent as opportunities to grow and mature as a person.
- There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with feeling sad, bored, restless or unhappy. It’s a natural part of the human experience. You can be unhappy and still be content.
“Don’t confuse happiness and contentment. Happiness is a state that comes and goes. Contentment is a mindset which stems from accepting things just as they are, including your messy, imperfect self.
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Call Off The Search For Happiness. Be Content Now
The illusion that happiness is a goal to be attained when the right conditions arise (rather than a passing emotion) can keep contentment out of reach forever.
How to be content in this moment if you’re always waiting for a better set of circumstances to materialise—the right relationship, a better job, a better you, the right dress size?
As long as you believe your life is incomplete as it is, you’re never going to be content.
The problem with the search for happiness is that you never arrive. You live in a perpetual state of waiting, a never-ending state of “what next”.
And even when you do find the ‘right’ relationship or the well-paid job, it’s never enough. Straight away, you’re looking for the next thing to make you feel complete.
This sense of ‘not enough’ runs deep in most people and no external circumstances will ever rectify it.*
( * note: what we’re really looking for is to reconnect with our true Self).
At some point you just have to make the conscious decision to be content anyway — just as things are right now.
In the meantime, however, a conscious shift in mindset can go a long way towards making you feel more content with your life as it is.
Here are a 7 tips you might find helpful.
1. Drop Your Resistance To ‘What Is’
Do you have a voice in your head that’s always telling you what your life SHOULD look like? Or how you SHOULD be?
Measuring reality against how you believe it should be will always keep contentment out of reach.
Don’t compare your life to the idealistic pictures that inhabit your mind. Drop any notion you have of how you or your life should look and instead, embrace things as they are. Practice self-acceptance.
It’s natural not to like what‘s happening at times but in the end, you have two choices—arguing with reality and thereby create more suffering for yourself or accepting what is, for the sake of your own peace.
You will experience contentment to the extent that you accept whatever life brings.
2. Hold Your Plans Lightly
“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” – Confucius
When I arrived back from India at the beginning of March last year, I was supposed to be moving to Spain the following week—that is, until the coronavirus pandemic struck and travel was no longer possible.
Now, three and a half months later, I’ve only just moved back into my house in Scotland, after being in temporary accommodation since March, still living out of my India backpack. ( it’s not as bad as it sounds!).
And do you know what?
It has been fine. I’m just grateful to be safe and healthy. And, life obviously has a different plan.
Hold your plans lightly. Be flexible. Make peace with change and uncertainty.
Make plans, set goals, even work diligently towards achieving them but, at the same time, hold them lightly. Don’t stake your future happiness and sense of wellbeing on whether they come to fruition or not.
Embrace the beautiful words of the Bhagavad Gita:
“Renounce attachment to the fruits of your work. Be even-tempered in success and failure: for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga” — Bhagavad Gita
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I won’t be happy unless X, Y or Z happens.”
Basing your happiness on external circumstances is like building a house on shifting sand. Recognise that you’re not in control of outcomes. Don’t let the way things turn out make or break you.
Decide to be content now, just as things are. If your plans work out, great. If they don’t, then they clearly weren’t meant to be. There are no mistakes.
Allow for the possibility that Life, in its infinite wisdom, has a different plan for you.
I love the following parable about the old Chinese farmer:
“Good News, Bad News: Who Knows?”
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3. Recognise You’re Not In Control
“Relax. Nothing is under your control.” — Adi Da Samraj
We like to think we’re in charge of our lives but in truth, we have no idea what’s waiting round the next bend—the current pandemic being a good example.
It’s best to relinquish control and make peace with uncertainty.
Depending on your viewpoint, acknowledging your lack of control can be seen as scary and anxiety provoking OR as a source of great freedom and relief— a release from the burden of trying to get your life ‘right.’
Surrendering all outcomes to the Divine Will is a notion that’s deeply embedded in the Indian psyche and is something that gives them great peace.
Seeing that, to a great extent, the direction your life takes is out of your own hands, can enable you to let go, relax and enjoy the ride more.
Recognise that what will be, will be anyway, whether you fret about it or not.
This is not to say, of course, that we should become nihilistic or complacent — more, that we can relax and trust that things will work out as they are meant to.
“You’re not here to comfortable but to waken up. Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” ― Eckhart Tolle
4. You Don’t Have To Be Happy To Be Content
Your contentment is based solely on your decision to be content.
If you’re able to allow each moment to be just as it is, without labelling it as good or bad, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, you can choose to be content whatever is happening or whatever you’re feeling—whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant.
When I was younger, the notion that it’s OK to be sad or unhappy was alien to me. I was totally identified with my thoughts and feelings, taking them to be who I am. I thought there was something wrong with me for having them.
The unhappiness is not you. It’s something you are temporarily experiencing.
When you fully accept your experience, whatever it is, you are able to remain content, regardless of what thoughts, feelings, emotions or life situations are passing by.
It’s impossible to be happy all the time but you CAN learn to be content no matter what.
5. Focus On Gratitude
‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’ ~Lao Tzu
If you want to be more content, look for ways to appreciate what you have right now rather than giving energy to the things you wish were different.
Although you may have limited control over the circumstances in your life, you are 100% free to choose what you give attention to.
Having got out of India by the skin of my teeth ( I was on one of the last flights out), I feel massively blessed just to be safe, to have a roof over my head, hot and cold running water and a refrigerator stacked with food—things that many people in the world would give their right arm for right now.
I even have Netflix, Zoom and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to take the edge off the boredom, should it arise. Talk about lockdown light!
We really are blessed beyond measure.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself With Others
There will always be people who are smarter, more attractive, more successful or more popular than you.
Comparing yourself unfavourably with others is the quickest way to put a dent in your own happiness.
And here’s the thing with comparisons. The tendency is to compare the worst in ourselves against the best assumptions we make about others.
I guarantee that their life won’t be the bed of roses your mind would have you believe. Nobody’s life is.
The truth is, you have no idea what’s going on behind the curtains for the guy across the street with the huge house and the flashy BMW. For all you know, he could be riddled with debt, unable to sleep at night or unhappy in his marriage?
You just never know.
Everyone has their own battles, inner and outer, to contend with.
The richest person in the street is the one who remains content under all circumstances.
7. Develop A Meditation Practice
Nothing has contributed more to my own sense of contentment and inner peace than having a regular meditation practice.
Meditation will help you:
- grow in inner peace, compassion and self-acceptance
- relate to thoughts and emotions with non-judgemental acceptance
- develop inner calm and equanimity
- live in a state of flow and inner connectedness
- establish a direct link to your true Self, the seat of perfect contentment.
If you are looking for a good online course to get started with meditation, I’d recommend this one.
Master Your Mind- Beginner Meditation (affiliate link).
How To be Content—In Summary
So, that’s it. I hope you’ve found these these 7 tips helpful.
Life is beautiful AND a big mess. You too are unique and beautiful—the only YOU in the whole universe—AND a big mess, just like everyone else.
True contentment comes from knowing that things couldn’t be any different from how they are… and accepting that on a deep level.
I don’t know how much use these words would have been to my younger self as it seems that we grasp each of life’s lessons only when we’re ripe enough to hear them. Everything happens in it’s own time.
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5 thoughts on “How To Be Content—Advice To My Younger Self”
What do you recommend for someone that tends to struggle and really obsess and take ownership of how he feels? Regularly I like to think I’m someone who can find joy(but really haven’t felt that way since mid-teens-mid twentys), but really struggles to be content when in confinement. The constant struggle between myself and others takes on way too much of a roll in my life. Now I’m in the hurry up and wait faze. It can leave me feeling very stressed. Also started a new job that I’m tending to make way too complicated for myself, I know I can do it but I find I have to figure everything out immediately. I also have another form of work(potentially)that is more labour intensive but is very sporadic(unpredictable, less consistent). The other issue is the new job is based off a 90 day trial which gives me a lot of stress because it depends on if I do well or not. The other part of the situation is that I have a wife and two kids, I especially don’t want to let my wife down. She has seen these situations really get to me in the past.
I don’t think much about being happy. I do think about and want contentment. But I also want more. I want to be motivated. I want to like what I’m doing. I do many things well, but I don’t take pleasure in the process. I’m concerned with the end product being as perfect as I can make it. When I do anything, I do it with the intent of doing it well. And because I do the best I can with the time I have, I don’t take criticism well or appreciate suggestions on how I could have done it better, especially from people who can’t do what I do. So, my frustration is always present. I don’t want to be angry but I don’t know how not to be a perfectionist. It’s hard to be content and a perfectionist. So, I procrastinate. And frankly, I’m tired of (irritated, frustrated, angry) that there doesn’t seem to be a balance between the good and the disappointing things in my life.
I hear you Kristina. The problem with wanting to be a perfectionist is that we are inherently imperfect. Imperfection is our nature. Striving to be perfect is like the grass striving to be blue or water striving to be dry. Celebrate being perfectly imperfect!
I am at a point in my journey where your words make SO much sense and are so lovely to read.