As I prepare to be a podcast guest, I’ve been pondering wealth, health and true happiness. As a result, I’ve circled back to many learnings, lessons and memories from family, school and trainings that have impacted my thoughts and feelings about “wealth.”
Often, I tell myself “Happiness is an Inside Job,” but what does that really even mean?
We might start with some ancient teachings:
Contentment and the pursuit thereof has been a central theme across many cultures, religions and philosophies throughout human history:
- Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, is thought to have said “Health is the most precious gain and contentment, the greatest wealth”.
- John Stuart Mill wrote, “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.”
- Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou wrote in the 3rd century BCE, “A gentleman who profoundly penetrates all things and is in harmony with their transformations will be contented with whatever time may bring. He follows the course of nature in whatever situation he may be.”
Contentment is reached through being satisfied with what a person has, as opposed to striving for larger ambitions. Socrates described this as such, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
Of course, a number of elements make finding a state of personal contentment easier, such as a strong family unit, a strong local community, and satisfaction of life’s basic needs.
More clues to contentment can be found in the teachings of yoga and the Yoga Sutras, credited to Patanjali, which is considered one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy. In this collection of aphorisms are outlined 8 principles of “yoga” called the eight limbs.
These are yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration of the mind), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption).
Santosha is the second of five niyamas. It denotes contentment and a lack of desire for what others have. While it may be translated as “complete contentment,” our goal here isn’t happiness, but something more subtle.
Santosha is both an attitude and a state of deep inner peace. Through practicing santosha, cravings and desires dissipate. When free from such influences, a person is free to pursue their calling without fear and manipulation.
Santosha encourages us to bring that simple enjoyment into our daily life experience, no matter what events occur. Practicing contentment might feel strange because it refutes the mainstream idea that we have to obtain more to be happy.
But the thing is, gaining more skills, more money, or more stuff just for the sake of having more doesn’t actually affect your mental and emotional state.
In practice, it’s important to understand contentment as an active practice that should contribute to your freedom and happiness. It’s not meant to restrain you nor ask you to accept everything even if you disagree with it.
Contentment vs. Complacency
When it comes to Santosha, you may see contentment and complacency in similar fashion, but they are definitely not the same.
Contentment allows for differentiation between situations you can and cannot change. You’re content with your current situation, which is probably not perfect. You are most likely looking to improve things, and you’re happy with that process as it unfolds.
Complacency is a forced, or fake, type of happy.
You might be able to put negative feelings aside, open your heart, and smile. This shows that you have become a person in all relationships who allows others to get their way.
But is this contentment or is this complacency?
To determine what you are feeling, you might ask yourself these questions:
- Is your experience based in acting – or not acting – to avoid conflict?
- Are you “giving in’ to what others ask just to keep the peace?
- Do you feel you’ve sacrificed happiness, “settling” for the status quo?
- Are you living with unresolved and unsettled feelings?
- Are you trading self-growth and introspection for what is easy?
If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, you might be working from complacency instead of contentment.
Contentment should not be a sacrifice; it satisfies the soul on the deepest of levels and guides you to growth.
How to Practice
Now you know about some mistakes we make when practicing the attitude of contentment, how do you successfully practice it?
Here are four practices to build your competence:
- Awareness of need vs. want – the next time you crave or desire something, get clear on if you really need something or if you want it. You might find that many of the things you feel you need are actually things that you want and cause you to accumulate well beyond your means.
- Meditation – sit quietly with yourself to bring about a deep sense of calm and soothing that may help to quiet the mind and the desires that can hijack all of us. Even 2 minutes daily can help.
- Expressing gratitude – reflect on the good of what you already have. This can go a long way towards feeling “ok” with how things are as opposed to coveting the accumulation of more.
- Breath work – practice to settle the mind-body and bypass the seeking mind. You might try breathing for the count of 5, hold for 5, exhale for 5, hold for the count of 5 for 3-5 rounds.