How do you learn to be more content? Here's some things I've learned.

I’ve been working away on my own contentment lately and I must say, it’s a challenging but rewarding experience. It’s probably one of the hardest processes you can go through because it refines your own wants and desires and forces you to see the world as it is. 

St Paul wrote this on contentment about 2000 years ago: 

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I think Paul gets a lot of things right here. First of all, contentment is something that you learn. You have to learn to be content and it’s not something that naturally comes to humans. 

Secondly, it is not dependent on your circumstances. So Paul has learned to be content in every situation. If you aren’t content single, you won’t be content married. If you aren’t content in the small apartment, you won’t be content in a mansion.  I’ve been around people who are super wealthy who are constantly discontent and those who have hardly anything who are the most content people on the earth. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned about contentment:

Gratitude fuels contentment: If you want to boost your contentment, start being grateful for what you have and where you are. Thankfulness and gratitude anchor you and curb the craving of discontentment. 

Contentment and happiness are not the same thing: You can be sad and be content. If your cat gets run over you will be sad, that’s normal. Not every day is going to be a box of birds and it’s important that you don’t repress your emotions and try to be happy all the time to make other people like you. I regularly state my emotions out loud as a way of processing them. For example, I went for a job the other day that I didn’t get. The emotion I experienced was ‘disappointment’. So I stated that out loud in my room “I am disappointed” and for the rest of the day if something was annoying me I knew it was because I had the feeling of disappointment still rattling around in me. By anchoring in contentment and being honest with myself about my emotions, I didn’t vent to other people or eat a big piece of cake or do something else to try and change my state. 

Discontentment is selfish: You owe it to yourself and the other around you to become a more content person. I used to have a friend (note -used) who constantly complained at cafes and restaurants. She would always want to sit somewhere else and continued to harass the waiters with requests for obscure sauces and amendments to her meal. It ruined the whole experience for everyone else because she wouldn’t sit and be grateful for the meal in front of her. Discontented people destabilise the people around them and put their needs ahead of others. Other people aren’t responsible for your happiness. 

Don’t make complaining normal: I worked with a CTO once who had an IT team of complainers. They were overly dramatic and always threatening to leave. There were tears and tantrums and the response to everything was a whinge. I commented on this once to someone as I couldn’t understand why the experienced and professional CTO would buy into all their nonsense. He replied “yes, and you should meet his wife, she’s the biggest complainer on the planet.” Suddenly it made sense, the CTO thought this type of behaviour was normal and kept pandering to the childish behaviour of his team. He was always trying to make everyone happy by coddling people rather than getting them to communicate and work through the real issues. 

Contented people serve others. Discontented people use others: If you are content in yourself then you don’t need to feed on other people for attention, happiness, entertainment or prestige. If you are discontent you tend to be very ‘flavour of the month” with people and discard them once they don’t fill your purposes anymore. Some of the most contented people I’ve met are others focused. They listen to others, don’t compete in conversations and try to help and build rather than tear down. If you are feeling discontent, try and shift the focus off yourself and on to others. 

Have I put too much value on that? This a a questions I ask myself if I’m feeling discontent or dissatisfied with something or someone. Allow a job to be imperfect. Allow a person to be imperfect. Your house , your car, your wife, your dog, your online shopping; all these things can’t fulfil you as a complex human being so don’t put too much value on things. Chill out and allow things to be imperfect- including yourself. 

Make a decision, like Paul, that you are going to learn to be content. You owe it to yourself and the people around you.