He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. Socrates

Are you really happy? How often in the last week, have you said “I need this” or “that” to be happy. You might have said, “When I have this, or even that, I will be happy? Once, twice or many times, perhaps?

The media sells us filthy lies, (only we don’t often recognise it). These lies are stunningly dressed up as dreams of pure happiness.

If only I can get that new Tessler, that Botox, that kitchen or that promotion – all will be just perfect!

Now, ask yourself, how many times did you get want you wanted? Only to be fed up again within a few days. Boom, once again, there you were passionately lusting after something else, like a dog on heat.  If you are like me, it happens all the time.

The Lie

You see happiness is actually a fleeting state, reached briefly, momentarily and then, ‘puff’,it’s gone again. That’s the true nature of happiness. It’s a bit like sadness in reverse. Instead of being bliss, sadness is awful when present. Thankfully, it usually passes quickly.

Many modern societies have become fixated with polarised attitudes. It’s one thing or it’s the other, “good or bad”, “right or wrong”, “love or hate”. One thing or another. You get my drift? It’s all about polarised opposites but we humans always desire the positive one.

The Truth

Happiness is actually ‘extreme’ or at the very top of a wide continuum. We visit it fleetingly before dropping down into the pleasant foothills of contentment. Try as hard as we will, it’s impossible to remain happy or ‘at the top of the summit’ all the time.  This is exactly where contentment comes in.  The obvious parallel is sex and orgasm. Can you remain in orgasmic bliss? No, not even Viagra can do that. The afterglow is where contentment is found.

So what is contentment? Contentment is not a passive state.  Most of us wrongly think of contentment as a state just short of boredom or at least a state of mediocrity. This is driven by the media who need us  to push on for happiness. Happiness and the fleetingness of it, makes them rich.

Contentment is actually a state of gratitude, an acceptance of where one is today.

It is gratitude for the benefits of many kinds that one has.

What are the simple habits of contented people:

  • They count their blessings right now.

    That does not mean giving up moving towards goals. It is simply being thankful for where one is now,

  • They stop and consider why they really want something.

    A lot of our yearning is to boost a fragile ego. The new ‘want’ feels like it will complete our happiness. It will prop us up for a while.

  • They show people they appreciate them

    People who experience close relationships appreciate more contentment.

  • They tend to surround themselves in nature

    Attunement with nature releases endorphins, these endorphins make us feel better about ourselves and shrink the ego.

  • They develop a spirituality

    A sense of purpose or the perception of a ‘point to it all’ stabilises us and provides meaning.

  • They exercise and care for body and mind

    A holistic approach to life rather than a cut off or disassociated way of looking at personal needs promotes wellbeing.

These six simple steps certainly lead to contentment and also allow you to reach happiness more often.

It is important to stress that the commitment to these steps is incorporated into ‘normal’ everyday life.  Most of us have to work, look after others, deal with the stress of a tetchy employer, struggle to pay the mortgage. That is the point.

Many people enter into therapy believing they must find continued happiness.

The journey of therapy is often a useful aid in reaching contentment through a life audit. Therapy can also help in setting softer goals and finding contentment along the way.

Normal people engaged in everyday life can reach contentment with these steps. Contentment still allows for following your dreams, it certainly allows a working towards more, but it acknowledges and is grateful for WHAT IS NOW!

Written by Dr Caitriona Power PhD Guest writer at Lighthouse Psychology. Lighthouse psychology provide a full range of psychological and wellbeing services to individuals and organisations throughout Ireland www.lighthousepsychology.ie