Read my essay 'Contentment in The Age of Anxiety' here.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions for my writing. To access the collaborative essay where you can post comments and feedback click here.
Contentment, or Santosha, is the second niyama. The niyamas in general are practices of personal observance. All of these observances are simply habits that we decide to continuously reinforce. Since anxiety is produced primarily by distress and discontent, when we make the choice to practice contentment we are also making the choice to self-soothe. Contentment is direct resistance to greed, envy, competition, and negativity. When we are content in our lives we are less likely to make brash or unskillful choices, create unnecessary waste, or treat our relationships as if they were disposable.
Contentment should not be confused with complacency. While it is important to consistently find appreciation and calm, it is equally important to work against oppression. When we practice contentment we must refer to the previous precepts we have worked with. Contentment must also be practiced with cleanliness (saucha.) If we are ignoring the negative effects of our actions, or consuming without mindfulness we create waste, stagnancy, and residue. We must practice satya, or truth, and refuse to lie to ourselves about the efficacy or impact of our own choices. Finally, we must always return to ahimsa, nonviolence. When we practice contentment it is equally important that we see how both our discontent as well as our complacency can create violence and suffering.
The most simple way to think about practicing contentment is to consider that it is the essence of wellbeing. Even in dire situations there are still things to appreciate. By practicing contentment we build resiliency, health, and balance in ourselves and others. Below you will find the beginning of a list for strategies on how to be content. Please comment on this page to add your own!
How to be content
- Spend time outside every day.
- Do something that gets your moving and your heartrate up for 15-30 minutes every day
- Regularly try to relax your brain: relax your eyes, forehead, and face.
- Breathe deeply and try to experience the sensation of your breath.
- Pay attention to your body: its sensations, instincts, and the ways you respond viscerally and kinesthetically to your surroundings.
- Practice appreciating normal things like textures, colors, and shapes.
- Practice appreciating other people for the ways they naturally are.
- Practice appreciating yourself when you appreciate others and the things around you.
- Try to notice when you are over-thinking or getting caught up in your thoughts
- When you notice that thinking is dominant, pay attention to your breath.
- Appreciate when something is good, or even just ok, as it’s happening.
- Notice what is lovely and good. Point it out to yourself and anyone around you.
- Make eye contact with people and smile at them
- Say Grace, or take a moment to feel grateful before you eat.
- Say thank you often, and mean it.
- When you experience craving or longing notice if it pushes you out of your own center.
- If it does, then practice centering yourself by turning your attention towards breath, sensation, and appreciation.
- If it doesn’t then enjoy the feeling of longing or craving, because those feelings are an important part of being mystical, romantic, magical beings.
- When you are judging something, notice how it makes you feel. Decide if you want to continue feeling that way. Play around with making different choices.
- When you notice yourself being judgmental, choose to find something to appreciate also.
- Don’t be fooled by appearances that make you assume something is better than what you have. Remember that life is probably just as complex over there as it is here.
- Remember that everything and everyone is changing, including you.
- Remember that nothing is permanent.
- Restrict your time on social media and the Internet
- Call people and get together instead of only texting
- Refuse to be impressed by busyness – your own and anyone else’s
- Write simple lists of what you can do easily in one day, refuse to add more to the list than that.
- Learn to prioritize
- Ask for help
- Practice caring less if non-essential tasks aren’t done
- Wait at least 24 hours before buying non-essential items. If the item in question is over $50, then wait a whole week.
- Affirm sensations of anxiety: overwhelm, depression, loneliness, purposelessness etc. by contextualizing the sensation in relationship to dominant culture. Try not to pathologize yourself or enforcing the perception that feelings of distress are wrong.
- Find or form communities that share resources
- Share what you have
- Ask for what you need
- Smile at people you don’t know
- Offer to help others
- Make a point to meet people (online or in person) who are significantly different than you, find ways to be friendly and connect with them
- When you get stressed from the news look around you and notice all the normal, non-exciting things that are happening
- Join a support group
- Study the geological epochs of the earth - remember how vast time and space are
- Ask others to tell you what they appreciate about you
- Clean out your house and get rid of everything you don’t actually need, and then don’t replace any of it