It’s easy to feel content when everything is going your way. But, as you know, life doesn’t always go your way. As a human being, you are guaranteed a mixed bag of experiences. Some of them, you’ll like; others...not so much. Births, deaths, loves, breakups, financial wins and losses, and someone eating the potato chips you were saving for later … it’s all par for the course.
In yogic terms, practicing contentment is a process of intentionally waking up to the good things in your life RIGHT NOW, regardless of whatever else may be going on. Even when life is less than perfect. Because life is always less than perfect. Contentment will elude you forever if you wait around for perfection. Practicing contentment means taking matters into your own hands. And here's a great place to start:
It is a natural remedy for dissatisfaction. And to start a gratitude practice, all you need to do is make some time each day to identify things you have to be grateful for. It could be something as simple as having a giggle at a ridiculous Youtube cat video. I mean, who can’t use a giggle right now? It could also be for something bigger, like a loving relationship or your health. Every. Little. Thing. counts when it comes to counting your blessings!
Taking up a gratitude practice does not ask you to deny the difficulties you’re experiencing.* What it DOES do is help you notice the good that’s sitting right alongside your problems. Gratitude can’t take your problems away, but it can provide a counterbalance to your mind’s tendency to ruminate about whatever is lacking in your life. So you have a more balanced perspective.
Here’s what science has to say about how gratitude breeds contentment. It:
- Opens the door to new relationships. Of COURSE it does! Everyone wants to spend time with someone that demonstrate love and appreciation for you
- Improves physical and psychological health
- Increases empathy
- Improves self-esteem
- Helps to overcome trauma
Here are 7 practices you can do to experience more gratitude & contentment in your life starting now:
1) SET AN INTENTION
Say to yourself “I have everything I need in this moment. I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.” Write it on a post-it note. Place it on your mirror where you’ll see it every time you visit the bathroom. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
2) RECOGNIZE EACH BREATH AS A GIFT
Take a walk, find a handsome looking tree, stand next to it and take a few deep breaths. As you inhale be aware that the oxygen you’re taking in is a gift to you, courtesy of the trees. As you breathe out carbon dioxide, know that your tree will inhale it and transform it into more oxygen for you. Breath is an easy gift to take for granted – because we do it so frequently (20,000+ times a day). For just a few moments, practice being conscious of the fact that you and the tree are exchanging the gift of life. Sit and breathe together awhile. And while you’re there, appreciate the beauty of nature.
3) FIND THE GIFTS INSIDE YOUR PROBLEMS
If 2020 were a factory, it would be in the business of manufacturing fear and discontentment. And business would be booming! To get personal, 2020 really did a number on me. 2021 isn’t looking like it came to play either. I’m a full-time yoga teacher working on my last year of a Kinesiology degree. What has allowed me to do be a full-time yoga teacher/student in the past is the fact that I spend my weekends and summers travelling and teaching workshops and trainings. They were ALL cancelled in 2020. ALL of them. That was, and IS, very bad for me financially. However, life is made of more than dollars and cents.
As a direct result of this tremendous loss of work, I found myself with A LOT of free time (the gift sitting alongside my problem) … to practice yoga, to write, to lift weights, to hike with my dog, to think about what I wanted to do next and to start building an incredible new online yoga business. Time is a precious gift. I would not have had any time for those things had I not lost so much work!
Since the pandemic started, I have leaned HARD into my gratitude practice. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps me swallow some of the harsher realities every day.
4) START AND END YOUR DAY WITH A GRATITUDE MEDITATION
This is the practice that starts my day every day.
5) PRACTICE RESTORATIVE YOGA
A soothing supportive pose offers you the gift of enjoying a quiet restful moment of solitude. There is nothing to do or get or achieve in restorative yoga. Simply savor the simplicity and sweetness of the moment as you lie down and practice doing nothing. Nowhere to go; nothing to do, but let go of ‘doing’ mind and let yourself ‘be’. It’s a practice in contentment.
6) KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL
Write down 15 things you are grateful for today! You could post the list on your fridge where its visible and you can give yourself frequent reminders of the good tings happening in your life. Read it often and add to the list whenever you think of something more to be grateful for. This could be a fun activity to do with the family. Everyone keeps adding to the list.
7) THINK OF SOMEONE WHOSE PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE YOU ARE GRATEFUL FOR THIS PAST YEAR
Tell them. Specifically, tell them what they did that made you so grateful and how it impacted you positively. When you do, you give them something to be grateful for too: someone noticing the good in them.
Gratitude, as a practice, comes from actively looking for whoever/whatever is good in your life and expressing appreciation for that. When you practice gratitude:
1) You affirm that there ARE, in fact, good things in the world. When life’s not going so well, reminding yourself of this can give you a much-needed psychological boost.
2) You recognize that you are the lucky recipient of gifts and blessings in life.
3) You recognize that the source of many of the good things in life is outside of you. This means that you are part of something bigger, and can spark feelings of community, connection, belonging and joy!
4) Gratitude creates an abundance mindset. If you believe ‘I have enough’ that is the springboard for so many other wonderful qualities, like contentment and generosity.
Wherever you find yourself – whether in circumstance good or bad; pleasant or unpleasant, remember that every challenging situation also has a gift and a lesson in it.
We can’t know the ultimate consequences of our current situation. Try to keep a balanced and open mind, and keep looking for the good.
*Denying your problems under the guise of spirituality is called 'spiritual bypassing.
Read about ‘spiritual bypassing’ here.