Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Incredible Power of Contentment

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” - Cicero
Leo Babauta on the power of contentment:
  • Count your blessings. When you find yourself unhappy with something, or with what you don’t have, take a moment to count all the good things in your life. And I would bet there are many. It puts the focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t.
  • Stop, and remind yourself. When you find yourself unhappy with someone, or trying to change them, stop yourself. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you should try to be happy with that person for who he/she is. Take a moment to think about the good things about that person, the reasons you love that person. Then accept their faults as part of their entire package.
  • Stop, and consider why you want something. When you feel the urge to buy something, think about whether it’s a need or a want. If it’s a want, take a pause. It’s good to wait 30 days — keep a 30-day list … when you want something, put it on the list with the date, and if you still want it in 30 days, you can buy it). Consider why you want something. Are you not content with what you already have? Why not?
  • Take time to appreciate your life! I like to reflect on my life, and all the good things in it, on a regular basis. I do this when I run, or when I watch the sunset or sunrise, or when I’m out in nature. Another great method is a morning gratitude session — think of all the things and people you’re thankful for, and thank them silently.
  • Show people you appreciate them. It’s good to appreciate people, but it’s even better to show them. Give them a hug, smile, spend time with them, thank them out loud, thank them publicly.
  • Breathe, and smile. Sometimes when we take the time to breathe, and smile, it can change our outlook on life.
  • Learn to enjoy the simple things. Instead of wanting to buy expensive things, and spend money on doing things like eating out or entertainment, learn to enjoy stuff that’s free. Conversations and walks with other people. Spending time outdoors. Watching a DVD or playing board games. Going to the beach. Playing sports. Running. These things don’t cost much, and they are awesome.
All of this is great advice indeed. Leo's post got me thinking about what makes me feel content. Here is a list of some of the first things that came to mind:
Things that detract from contentment include:
  • Broken relationships
  • Health problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Homework
The most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms. The really important things are not houses and lands, stocks and bonds, automobiles and real state, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith."
- Bertrand Russell
When I was in undergrad, I set two goals that have played a large role in how I try to live my life. I do not follow either one of these perfectly, but they remain my aim and have helped enhance my contentment:

1) Valuing people above my schedule. Basically what I mean by this is that I genuinely enjoy spending time with people and try to make focusing my time on building relationships a priority in my life. I have lost many hours of sleep staying out late at bookstores, coffee shops, and parking lots talking with friends and have formed many deep and meaningful relationships this way. I have gained so much more than I have lost.

2) Collecting experiences rather than accumulating possessions. I decided long ago that I would rather spend my time and money (within limits) on having adventures and making memories than accumulating stuff. Turns out, happiness research backs this up as one of the best way to use your money to make yourself happier. (The logic being that you get used to the stuff you own, which tends to depreciate, but good memories are always recalled fondly.)

These two goals have served me well, helping lead me to a life rich in relationships and with many adventures -- both around the country and around the world. My wallet may not be as fat as it might have been, but what I've gained has been worth so much more.

For more on contentment, be sure to read how studying economics helps make you happier. Overall, nothing brings contentment like being grateful for what you have.

In contrast to what many might think, money doesn't seem to do too much:
"...wealth increases human happiness when it lifts people out of abject poverty and into the middle class but that it does little to increase happiness thereafter."
For me, I am often amazed at how content I am now as a grad student compared to how I was when I was making multiples of my current income as an engineer.

(Photo via)


chris said...


lewis said...

Your two goals are especially true in raising children. Schedules can get in the way of great family times. Sometimes a parent needs to just throw the schedule out the window and go with the flow of what is happening. If a child is enjoying the moment, don’t end it too soon. It is these happy moments that children will remember and cherish.

They may fondly remember their first bike but it is the time spent riding the bike with friends and family that make the bike special.