Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I find myself becoming more content with my life. It’s not that anything has changed greatly in recent years. I haven’t won millions of dollars, bought a new house or car, or taken a fancy vacation. In fact, very little that’s happened in the last few years has revolved around money. Instead I’ve been taking joy in the many wonderful things I already have in my life. My family and friends, my pets, work that I enjoy, hobbies that enrich my life, and an appreciation for nature are all increasing my contentment level.
As a result of finding this peace in my life, I find that I spend less money. While I didn’t spend a lot before, I find that as I’m more able to appreciate what I already have, the less new stuff I need. Or want. It’s a good feeling. I don’t have that grasping, stressed out feeling that comes with seeing new stuff in stores and wanting it. Contentment has replaced money as the thing that brings me happiness.
While it’s taken me a while to get here, I’ll admit to being amazed (and a little sad) that it took so long. Most of us that live in “first world” countries don’t have many reasons not to be content. Most of us have a roof over our head, friends or family we can rely on, and access to resources and opportunities that people in other countries can only dream of. Most of us have “enough.” We may not have everything we want or be satisfied with every aspect of our lives, but we have enough to sustain a reasonable life.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we are going to be happy and thrilled with life all the time. There are always going to be challenges and things that make us angry. Rude people abound, traffic jams are still plentiful, people get sick and die, and we may not love our jobs. Contentment, though, goes deeper than having everything go your way all the time. Even when things are going wrong, being content means that you realize that the bigger picture is still good.
When I was less content, I sought to fill that void with stuff or expensive experiences. I know many people are the same way. They’re always thinking that the next great electronic gadget, handbag, or vacation will make them happy and content. But of course any happiness gained is short lived. Long-term contentment comes from appreciating the deeper things in life. A handbag may bring you joy for one season. Learning how to appreciate your spouse can bring you joy for decades.
Finding contentment isn’t easy. Admittedly, I’ve sort of stumbled into it. The last few years have had their share of challenges, culminating earlier this year when I spent quite a bit of time flat on my back, barely able to move. While lying there, I had a lot of time to think about what I really wanted and enjoyed in life. It turned out that I had everything already. Maybe my things aren’t the newest and best, but they’re mine and I enjoy them. I chose them carefully and they all have their purpose. The bigger things in life really showed through in family and friends that helped me while I was down and in simple joys like watching the sun rise, or petting my dog. Simply going out for a walk became a huge pleasure again. Nothing at Target will ever make me feel as good as the first day I was able to get back outside.
If you’re looking for contentment, I wouldn’t recommend extreme pain as a way to get there, although nothing makes you realize what’s important faster than a medical challenge. You can try prayer if you are religious. Maybe meditation or a meditative exercise like yoga can put you in better touch with the things that center you. You can also try journaling about the good things you already have in your life. Seeing them in print may make you realize how important they really are. You might try not spending on anything but essentials for one month and filling your time with other things that are meaningful to you. Or you can always compare your standard of living to that of someone in another country, or another historical period. There’s nothing like realizing how good you have it compared to others to bring you to contentment.
Being content doesn’t mean that I never want anything. Of course I do. In most cases, though, when I really think about whatever it is, I realize that it’s not something that will make me any happier than I am now. I’m able to walk away and leave it on the shelf, knowing that my life is already pretty darn good without the latest gadget.
(Photo courtesy of exfordy)