I had a reader contact me recently and ask about contentment or how to “just be.”
Emily and I thought this would be a great topic for a Podcast, so that may be on its way as well. In the meantime, I thought I’d write up something about it.
I’m not a Zen master or yoga instructor, and I like things that are practical, actionable, and sustainable. Three words I thought of while sitting in the Best Buy parking lot yesterday. This is totally cool because I realized that’s my mission. To provide tips and techniques on happiness based on real life experiences that are practical, actionable and sustainable.
A quick moment to share something… I’m not doing this alone. I certainly do not know everything or have the market cornered on happiness. What I do have is a proven method that works for me and I’ve seen it work in others. It’s not rocket science and it’s all actually pretty simple, but not easy.
It involves seven steps which I go into detail in my upcoming book, which everyone will hear about soon enough. But I will say it’s getting close and hopefully only a few months away. Man, it’s a lot of work.
Back to contentment…
All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. – Blaise Pascal
There’s a correlation between my happiness today and my ability to sit quietly alone. I’m not sure if that’s how you would define contentment though. Let’s look at the actual definition so we’re all on the same page.
Contentment: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.
Oh wow, I certainly was nowhere close to that for the majority of my life. The first time I got a glimpse of how dissatisfying life was going to be, I was twenty-two years old. I’d become a full-time primate keeper, fulfilling a childhood dream and realized I was set for life, knowing exactly what I wanted to do forever.
Then one day I woke up and wasn’t happy or satisfied anymore. I resigned to the idea that life was just going to be that way; endured and never completely satisfying.
Skip ahead past years of going through the motions. I went through careers and relationships like shoes; searching for something that fit right, looked good, and was at least somewhat popular for the next 6-12 months.
Then came the point where it just wasn’t worth trying anymore. So I was forced to try something different. Up to this point, sitting in a room alone was simply not going to happen. Heck, I had trouble sitting still in a room full of people.
So I set out on a mission to find happiness, contentment, and some relief from myself and the burden of living. I discovered that contentment was a by-product of accepting self and how I fit in with the world around me. It came through awareness, self-searching, forgiveness and a lot of uncomfortable work. I had to learn who I was in order to allow my authentic self to just “be.”
Through the process of discovering and loving my authentic self, I found a few tips on what it means to be content, and how to be happy just being still.
Find some humility – Humility was a tool, not a character trait. I was bludgeoned into humility, you can choose it. If you’re not content with life, then you’re looking externally still for validation, acceptance, and happiness. Humility means (in this context) having a realistic view of self and the ability to conduct an honest self examination. It’s about conceding that you’re not the center of the universe, everything doesn’t revolve around you; we all need help.
Here’s something important on humility, some people (previous self included) think that being shy, or having a low self-esteem means being humble. That’s not true. Shyness is still a form of self-centeredness; you’re making it all about you.
Mental Detoxification – You can’t sit still if you’re head is spinning. This is probably one of the hardest things to get a handle on. I still struggle with this at times, especially when I’m trying to sleep.
Except today, as opposed to my past, I lay awake thinking about things I want to get done and am excited about as opposed to fear, guilt, or resentments.
You must learn how to clear your mind of regrets and fears to be in the moment and enjoy who you are now and what you’re doing. It’s hard I know, and may even seem impossible at times. But it can be done. Trust me, if I can do it with my past, anyone can.
Gratitude – Yes, I’m listing gratitude in another list posted on the internet. It’s that important. As I always say, we take care of things we’re grateful for and gratitude is an action.
Being grateful for whom you are and what you have means you’re in abundance as opposed to scarcity mode. Which results in not looking for something else and being content or satisfied. At least for the moment; put enough of these together and you’re onto something.
Get out of Your Head – Learn to travel the longest distance in the world, the twelve inches between your head and your heart.
People used to tell me to get out of my head and into my heart. I had no freaking idea what they were talking about. I thought it meant I needed to be more emotional, which didn’t make much sense because I pretty much cried all the time anyway. Yes, I’m a man who cries.
Today I know what this means.
In the past I was a narcissist and really didn’t know it. Every event, relationship, or circumstance was viewed through the lens of “what’s in it for me.” I wasn’t a mean person or harmful to others, I just didn’t know anything different.
After about six months of working on myself, going through this process of self-discovery (stuff I talk about in my upcoming book) I had a friend who experienced sort of a medical miracle. I recall feeling this intense joy and happiness for her good fortune. It’s hard to explain, but it was completely different than anything I’d ever felt. It was true happiness for someone else and not just how that event affected me.
Once I learned what was in my own heart, I was able to feel what was in the heart of others. It comes out in conversations, body language and normal everyday interactions. It’s like seeing the world with a completely new set of eyes.
Without this connection with my own heart, building deep relationships with others was difficult. It’s like trying to explain to someone what an orange tastes like if you’ve never tasted one.
The by-product of this emotionally connectedness is decisions and actions are driven by an internal balance—conscience and self-respect—rather than based on my ego and what I want people to think about or perceive me externally. Consequently, external things matter less, if at all in most cases.
The less you need externally, the more content you are internally. And you know and feel it when you’re connected to your heart.
Learn meditation – People meditate in all different ways. Most people not familiar with meditation think it’s all about sitting still and thinking nothing. That’s not necessarily the case. For example, Vipassana mediation is about insight; knowing what is happening as it happens.
I like to run, and lately I’ve started running without headphones. I used to listen to music, podcasts, or try and make my running time productive in some manner. …as if running wasn’t productive enough. But now I enjoy meditating while I run.
I just run, listen to my feet hitting the sidewalk or the leaves rustling across the street. I hear the dog a few blocks over, my breath, etc. It’s all wondrous and helps me focus, clear my mind, relax and be content with what I’m doing in that moment.
If you can learn how to mediate and clear your mind for just a few short minutes, you’ll at least be content for those brief moments. But it all starts somewhere.
Being content means being satisfied with our stint in life. But we have to start being satisfied with who we are first.