Cultivating Contentment

Most of us want contentment. Perhaps it sounds a bit trite. Awakening and enlightenment sound more spiritually advanced. But whatever we call it, we share the desire to be happy. Everything we do, seeking relationships, making money, walking in nature, is in the pursuit of contentment. When our clock runs out, alone with our thoughts, we want to be at peace with our decisions and how we spent our lives. 

Contentment has nothing to do with externals. It is an inner state void of attachment and fear. It’s about finding stillness within ourselves that allows us to be happy with our situation and at peace with who we are. 

The state of contentment happens when “I want this, I want that,” has ceased. We want what we have. After enjoying breakfast together, I pointed out a cute clothing shop next door to the restaurant to my friend Maureen. Instead of taking me up on the underlying suggestion to shop, she said, “I have all the clothes I need for the rest of my life.” Contentment is more of a state of less rather than a state of shopping for happiness.

When you are in a state of real needs, roof over your head and food on the table, it’s hard to think of anything else. Some people can, but for most mortals, the immediate needs take up most of our thinking space. But even when I’d acquired all externals I wanted, the thoughts of more didn’t go away. The restless desires remained.  

Experiencing contentment is as easy—and yet as radical—as taking a deep breath and breathing out the urges for more of anything. Can we let the turmoil of the world simply come to rest? Can we feel the physical release and emotional surrender when we let go of wanting “things” to be different? 

Finding contentment in a world full of opinions on what makes us happy is challenging. On the other hand, these are the testing grounds to find the answer. Let me share a story for when adding more moved me away from peace.

My bedroom walls display art and multiple pictures of my family. My desk holds dozens of books, a lamp my father made for me, a silver container with personal messages from teachers I worked with, a swivel chair, and on and on. After I’d filled the room with stuff, I started thinking I needed more space. Reluctantly I acknowledged that the answer was not about getting a bigger room but about less stuff. After giving away everything I didn’t need to sleep or write, the space I wanted revealed itself—just the right size. 

When we stop looking for happiness outside ourselves, inner contentment arises. Satisfaction with what we have releases us from restless desires and opens us up to the needs and gifts of others. When we get the inside right, the outside falls into place. When we honor the present moment, everything we do is filled with a sense of care and love, even the simplest of actions like doing laundry.