What do you think of when you hear someone say they feel content? We know that contentment feels like it’s hard to come by these days. In many ways, life’s challenges have become more complicated even though we live in a time where answers and connections can be found at our fingertips. So, what separates those individuals who feel content and satisfied from those who don’t? According to several scientific studies, mindset plays a large role.

Stephen J. Bronner, writer and journalist says we should know about what contented people think: Contented people practice self-acceptance. They aren’t always trying to be someone they are not. What you see is what you get! They don’t downgrade themselves to look humble, but they also do not make claims about themselves they know are false.

People who are contented have a goal of pursuing long-term contentment rather than attempting to be instantly gratified. Why get involved with people or situations just to look friendly for the moment? Backing out or breaking up then becomes much harder because of the fear of hurt and wounded emotions. Why join a group doing something you really don’t enjoy just to keep from being thought of as haughty?

Contented individuals embrace all their emotions. It means you take the good with the bad. Being content is more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain, it is about having experiences that are meaningful and valuable, including emotions that you think are the right ones to have at the time. Don’t bottle up your emotions if you want to experience contentment.

Another thing about contented people is that they feel their life has meaning. When you find more meaning in life, you become more contented, whereas if you don’t have purpose in life and are searching for it unsuccessfully, you will feel much more stressed out. Start with this question: “Why did I get up this morning?” Was it just to exist for another day or did you have a purpose for getting out of bed, getting dressed, and taking on the challenges of the day, whether at work or at home? Furthermore, is what you do at work or at home meaningful to others? Would they be missing something if you were not in their lives? Contentment comes by knowing that another person was made happy by your presence, behavior, words, or deeds.

Being content with who you are does not mean overlooking or excusing your weak points or things in which you need to make improvements. Remember, you are connected to the people and world around you. Just walking down, the street with a smile on your face may influence someone else to smile. Being courteous to another person my have a ripple effect of their being courteous to others.

Psychologist Mike Hedrick tells us that instead of trying to seek happiness, we should aim for the more manageable goal of contentment. I think this is something we would all do well to wrap our heads around because constant happiness, as it stands, is fleeting. It’s a momentary thing that lasts for a day, at most, before everyday stress starts flooding back into the picture.

Contentment, on the other hand, is the feeling of being okay with the way things stand. It’s being comfortable with life—not ecstatic happiness but also not sadness or anger. The first thing someone should do to seek contentment is to analyze of their situation and express gratitude. Being thankful for the things you have can help you understand that things aren’t nearly as bad as you sometimes make them out to be. It can give you the realization that, although things could be better, they are manageable for the time being.

That said, there may still be some itch inside you for things to be better, for you to be more content, and that’s ok. It’s perfectly normal. The thing to do in that case is to make a plan for the things you want. Contentment is something we could all use. Keeping these things in mind will help to ease the pulling you feel in your chest for things to be better. So, feel free to go about it in any way you choose but expressing gratitude and doing the work to get to where you want to be are easily the best ways of finding that contentment that you’re looking for. 

Then Miriam Ujberg explains that contentment is one of those buzz words that we usually hear linked with any discussion around ‘the good life.’ It is referred to either directly or indirectly in most of the scales listed on Authentic Happiness. But is contentment an attitude that we choose to bring to our lives or is it an effect of our well-lived lives? Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté describe iceberg beliefs, deeply held beliefs about who we are and how we believe the world should operate that “float” beneath the surface of our consciousness. Do our iceberg beliefs dissolve once we find contentment, or do we need to remove those iceberg beliefs in order to find contentment?

But there is another side to contentment. Positive emotion researcher Barb Frederickson suggests that fear elicits a desire to escape, anger the eagerness to attack, disgust the ambition to expel, guilt the eagerness to make amends, shame the wish to disappear, sadness the inclination to withdraw… all specific action tendencies associated with certain negative emotions. If I were to ask you to feel these emotions in your body, each of them would encourage a real action, some sort of ‘doing.’ This idea of emotion leading to action is what we are most familiar with. Because actions are seen and observed by others, they are viewed as the essence of our contribution as human beings. On the other hand, an emotion or state like contentment elicits inaction; something more foreign in our Western minds. In other words, being content while you watch a house going up in flames because it’s not yours.

But what does God’s holy Word have to say about contentment? It tells us to keep our lives free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”[1] Then the Apostle Paul testifies he learned that in whatever situation he is to be content. He knew how it felt to be brought low, and how to prosper. In any and every circumstance, he learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.[2]

Paul also told young Timothy there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.[3] The Apostle goes on to tell the Corinthians, for the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[4]

In other words, every morning when you wake up thank God for the food you have to eat, the clothes you have to wear, the roof over your head, your mode of transportation, your job or normal daily activities, and for life, health, and strength to get you through the day. These are gifts, everything else that comes your way is like a cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae. Contentment begins with knowing that at the end of the day your faith, hope, love, trust, faithfulness, and all the fruit of the spirit in your life will be better and stronger than they were when the day began. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Hebrews 13:5

[2] Philippians 4:11-12

[3] 1 Timothy 6:6-8

[4] 2 Corinthians 12:10

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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