Contentment is not the poor cousin of happiness. By Lexie Williamson
Contentment; it’s a slippery bugger. One second you have it, the next it’s gone and the desire, dissatisfaction and wanting is back. It’s a very human condition to think ‘If I have those Lululemon leggings I will be satisfied.’ Buy them, though, and the magic is lost. That feeling that life is complete starts ebbing away as you step from shop door to pavement. You still like the leggings (a lot) but then there’s that vest top…those trainers…that bar of Green & Blacks…Unfair, I know, but true.
So why bother with contentment? After all, it doesn’t have the fame of happiness. I mean Pharrell Williams is unlikely to create a song called ‘Contentment’. Also, isn’t contentment kind of old fashioned? It does conjure up images of old folks sitting side-by-side on matching rocking chairs. Other random images to flash up in my mind when I utter the word include knitting, a cup of steaming tea and a pair of comfy slippers. Well, this may be another one of those age things but I say don’t knock contentment. I’m with the yogic sage Patanjali who featured contentment or ‘santosha’ in his Yoga Sutras. Santosha is listed as one of five Niyamas, which are variously described as virtuous habits, duties or observances. These ‘do’s and don’ts’ are the first few rungs on the long ladder to enlightenment.
According to Patanjali santosha, or accepting one’s circumstances as they are, brings unexcelled happiness, mental comfort and joy. Fighting against them in the form of discontent, or restlessness, in contrast, only brings personal misery and suffering. To put it another way, there’s something masochistic about our continual search for perfection in an imperfect world. The bus will be late, the kettle will break and the dog will roll in poo. And while contentment does not have the firework effect of happiness it does provide a pretty nice glow. Sometimes it can even send a small shiver up your spine, in a good way.
In the end, much like mindfulness, finding contentment in everyday life is all about noticing. Catch yourself next time you are snuggled up on the sofa with the kids or chatting in a bar with your friends. Take time to look at the faces surrounding you and soak up the moment. Feel that shiver and revel in your contentment. Feel satisfied, smug even. Enjoy.
Lexie Williamson is a yoga teacher and health and fitness writer (pulseyoga.co.uk)