There are countless suggestions for how to achieve happiness in this life. Some are great advice, while others not so much. The best advice for how to achieve and maintain happiness is often times the simplest. Contentment is a secret ingredient of happiness. The ability to feel content with what you have, the way things are in your life, and who you are as a person can lay the foundation for happiness.
Studies show that there is an inverse relationship between the desire for more money and the happiness people feel. The more they want, the less happy people feel. This is due to a lack of contentment. Always feeling like you need more in order to be happy or fulfilled creates a feeling of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction breads bitterness and bitterness breads unhappiness.
One way to check whether you are lacking in contentment is to ask yourself whether you frequently think a version of the following thought: “If only X would happen, then I’d be happy.”
Increasing and maintaining a sense of contentment will help you achieve happiness now and as your circumstance change. Here are a few tips on increasing contentment.
- Clarify needs versus wants: Needs are things that you require in order to be safe and healthy. Wants are things you desire to improve your life. Focusing on having your needs met will allow you to see where you have enough (while focusing on wants will make you see where you lack).
- Practice recognizing the little things in life that are often taken for granted: Imagine what it would be like to not have something that you take for granted, then appreciate the fact that you have that thing. (For example, I take my comfortable desk chair for granted. If I think about what it would be like to have an uncomfortable chair to sit in during the day, I suddenly feel appreciation for my once-overlooked desk chair.)
- Give to others: Whether it be of your time, energy, or money, giving to others helps increase your appreciation for what you have and how you can impact others’ lives in a positive way. Even if it is something as small as giving an encouraging comment to someone, try to make giving a regular part of your day.
Increasing contentment does not mean that you lose the drive to achieve more or to fight against the status quo. You can still feel contentment in your life while still recognizing big goals for your future or for society at large. Contentment will help you appreciate even the smallest progress you make toward those larger goals all along the way.
Shawn Healy, PhD