“He who looks far for blessings” suggested the 19th-century poet Sarah Knowles Bolton, “will overlook his own”.
What’s better than feeling settled at this moment, fine with what is at this moment, not needing more at this moment, not anxious about what’s missing, or what could be or should be or what might have been? Instead of doggedly ruminating about the morning’s bad news, replaying yesterday’s kerfuffle with a friend, or agonizing over all the many things in life you can’t change consider another viewpoint. Enter “contentment,” that blissful state when sitting on the porch — just sitting — is enough.
When just picking spring’s first daisy or summer’s first berry is satisfying. When the sight of the first robin or the fall of the first autumn leaf strikes a chord. When a silence (unbroken by the sound of an audiobook or a podcast) is, filling. When you are feeling fine, (not jubilant, not even joyful), just fine at this finite moment in this finite world.
It’s called contentment. Maybe it’s a lost art. Unless you’re a cat. Think of contentment like a cat curled up on a sunny windowsill. And you could be that cat.
Contentment, according to the Oxford dictionary, is an emotional state of satisfaction that can be seen as a mental state drawn from being at ease in body and mind, a state of having accepted one’s situation, a milder form of happiness. In other words, having enough, feeling enough, being enough.
According to other social commentators, contentment is not something you pursue, achieve or attain. Rather it’s something you practice. And it pays off. According to mental health counselor Jacqueline Pearce, when you become your own version of that contented sleeping cat on the windowsill you lose that all-too-human impulse for those deadly sins– greed, envy, and hypocrisy. And there’s no learning curve to feeling satisfied.
In the words of the poet Mary Oliver (In her poem Wild Geese)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
After all, now is the only place we ever are, to love what we love. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is just a possibility. Here’s how to bring contentment back into your life.
Here’s how to be right here, right now:
Square one revisited Remember a time you lost something for a while – your health, your job, your best friend. Then recall how it felt to get it back. Didn’t everything feel new again? Didn’t you feel like you wanted for nothing else? Revisit that moment.
25 and counting. Stop where you are, and disengage from digital devices. Sit down with an old-fashioned sheet of paper and pencil and write down 25 things (physical or spiritual) that you have right now that make you feel good, happy, and centered. Don’t stop until you hit 25. Read the list, more than once.
Enough is enough: For one week, devote yourself to a deeper appreciation of what you have and where you are. Don’t spend any money on anything new (except absolute necessities like food and gas). Try to get reacquainted with the riches in your life you take for granted. Try to experience contentment rather than opting for the dopamine spike that comes from making a purchase.
Home Sweet Home: Recall a time when you returned from a hospital stay, an extended stay away from home or a long road trip. Wasn’t it precious to feel rooted again, to feel that home- again- nothing- else- needed sense of contentment? Bring it back.
Pet Perfect: Have a companion animal? Sit or lie down, and let your pet sit beside you, on top of you, draped over your legs or on your lap. Feel your pet’s sense of love and contentment flow through you, maybe even accompanied by a purr or doggy sigh.
A Second Look: Take a walk like the monks at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village in southwest France. Not somewhere new but a walk that’s so familiar you could do it with your eyes closed. But keep them open this time and see the same-old same-old with new eyes.
Try “slow looking”: This technique calls us to contentment by taking a longer deeper look at a single piece of art in a museum. But instead of an entire floor of masterpieces, it can be applied to a poem, a photograph, an illustration from your favorite book, even slow looking out your window at a familiar scene and really seeing it contemplative until you feel a deeper sense of connection in which you can rest contentedly. No rush.
Eat less, savor more: Rushing through life, rushing through a meal, we miss the beauty that feeds us. Slow down, smell the parsley, experience the tastes, smells, and textures. Try setting a timer. And silence can also lead to a more contented diner. Your digestion will thank you. It may even purr like a cat. A contented cat.