I recently found myself working at a jaw-droppingly beautiful work site on the central coast of California. I was on top of a grass cliff overlooking the dark blue Pacific Ocean, but despite the amazing backdrop I was distracted by my mind overthinking, ruminating, and what-iffing. Work stress, personal stress, financial stress, marital stress…you name it, and I was probably overthinking it.
Perhaps you can relate.
On this day at this time, I could have found a freaking pot of gold and complained that it was not gold enough.
I finally realized I needed to intentionally fix my mindset. I needed to cultivate contentedness for my current life, and I wanted to be more present in the given moment. If this beautiful oasis wasn’t enough for me to be content and present, what the heck would be?!
How to Cultivate Contentedness
Thanks to my psychology degrees and my inner nerd, when I’m stressed and seeking a change, I tend to research and read in an attempt to find answers and solutions.
What I learned changed my day and will likely have long-lasting positive impacts on my mindset.
Here’s what I learned, so you can too…
What is Contentment?
Contentment is a state of being satisfied and at peace with oneself and one’s circumstances. This acts as a protective factor against stress and negative emotions. Studies have shown that individuals who are content tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Additionally, contentment promotes gratitude and appreciation for what we currently have in life. When we are content, we are more likely to recognize and acknowledge the positive aspects of our lives. This shift in perspective helps us maintain a positive outlook and enhances our overall emotional wellbeing. Research has also found that practicing gratitude leads to increased happiness and life satisfaction despite whatever is actually going on.
Moreover, contentment fosters healthy relationships and social connections. When we are content with ourselves, we are less likely to seek validation from others or engage in toxic relationship patterns. This allows us to form genuine connections based on mutual respect and support. Studies have shown that individuals who are content with their relationships experience greater life satisfaction and lower levels of conflict.
Increasing Contentment: Gratitude
One way to increase contentment is by practicing gratitude.
We can experience gratitude at any given time, and also turn this into a long-term trait through consistency. Gratitude is like a muscle….it will atrophy if not flexed often. Try this: before you go to bed each night, write down 3 things you are grateful for. Be encouraged to actually write these down, not type, as handwriting has been shown to increase positive emotions and learning compared to typing. You can show gratitude for anything…your health, your family, a good book, sunshine, the strength of latte you had this morning…anything.
Try to do this for a week and then reflect on your emotional state. Did it improve? Do you feel more content? By recognizing the goodness and blessings in our lives, we likely will rewire our brains to focus on the good (and not just the bad). Plus, studies have shown that expressing gratitude to others can have a domino effect and those who receive are more likely to reciprocate similar behaviors in the future. This helps to form social bonds that reinforce contentedness.
Increasing Contentment: Being Present
Another way to cultivate contentedness is through being present.
Being present means fully engaging with the current moment, letting go of distractions and judgments, and embracing the experience with openness and curiosity.
To be present in day-to-day life, it is important to cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Taking a few moments each day to focus on being mindful can help anchor us in the present moment, increase contentment, and reduce stress.
Some practice this through meditation.
Another way to practice mindfulness is through The Five Senses exercise, which is a mindfulness practice that helps you connect with the present moment by engaging your senses.
Here’s how to practice The Five Senses exercise:
- 5 Sights: Look around and identify five things that you can see. Pay attention to the colors, shapes, and details of each object. Take your time to observe them without judgment or analysis.
- 5 Sounds: Close your eyes or keep them open and listen carefully to the sounds around you. Notice the different tones, pitches, and rhythms. Try to identify at least five sounds, whether they are nearby or in the distance.
- 5 Smells: Take a deep breath and pay attention to the smells in your environment. Focus on the scents that you can detect, whether they are pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. Try to identify five different smells, such as the aroma of coffee, freshly cut grass, or a particular fragrance.
- 1 Taste: If possible, take a small bite or sip of something and focus on its taste. Pay attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations in your mouth. Notice any different tastes, such as sweet, sour, bitter, or salty.
- 1 Touch: Pay attention to the sensations of touch on your skin or through physical contact. Notice the temperature, texture, and pressure of a different surface or object you touch. Run your fingers over fabric, touch a new object, or feel the ground beneath your feet.
By engaging the senses in this exercise, we redirect our attention to the present moment and become anchored in the here and now. It can help to cultivate a greater sense of awareness and presence in the environment, reducing the tendency to dwell on the past or future.
Struggling to Feel Contentment
What if, you think…”That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m still feeling like Negative Nelly. And even though life gave me lemons, I complain about the absence of sugar and tequila.”
Well, I would encourage you to reflect on what’s truly got you feeling that way.
There can be several reasons why someone may struggle to find contentment, be present, and fail to see the beauty and blessings in life.
Here are a few possible factors to consider:
- Negativity bias: Humans have a natural tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences, which can overshadow the positive aspects of life. This bias can make it harder to recognize and appreciate the goodness and blessings that exist. As a former cop and dispatcher (and a cop’s kid and cop wife…), this is something I still struggle quite a bit with but the first step here is awareness.
- High expectations and comparison: When we set excessively high standards for ourselves or are constantly comparing ourselves to others, it can be challenging to recognize and appreciate the good. Unrealistic expectations and comparisons can create a sense of dissatisfaction and prevent us from fully embracing what we have. Easier said than done, I get it…coming from a recovering perfectionist, but still important to acknowledge and attempt to improve on.
- Overwhelm and stress: When we are overwhelmed by stress, responsibilities, or challenging life circumstances, it can be difficult to see the beauty and blessings amidst the chaos. Stress can narrow our focus and make it harder to notice and appreciate the positive aspects of life. Trust me when I say, been there and done that. Simplify your life where you can and give yourself grace where you can’t.
- Professional help: Consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor can also be beneficial in gaining perspective and developing strategies to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation. I’ve done it. My husband has done it. Some of my closest friends have done it. There’s no shame in reaching out for professional help so you can be your best self.
Contentment Lies in the Present
Eventually, I performed The Five Senses exercise atop that grassy knoll overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You know what I experienced? I experienced a symphony of sensory delights. During the exercise, I finally surrendered to the tranquility and allowed nature’s masterpiece to captivate my senses, imprinting this moment and giving my stressed-out brain a break.
I am encouraged to know that contentment lies not in chasing the future or dwelling in the past, but in fully immersing ourselves in the beauty of the present. Perhaps you can be encouraged too.
For more on Stress Management, please check out our Stress Management and Burnout resource page. If you’re a Youturn Health member, log in to watch our Stress Management, Burnout and Mindfulness, and Energy Work courses to learn more about techniques to practice gratitude, manage stress, be more mindful, and increase life satisfaction.
About the Author
Stephanie Kiesow is a writer, author, speaker, and law enforcement veteran. Stephanie served the Central Coast of California during her 16 years in law enforcement; the last several as a police officer. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the California State University at Channel Islands, master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology (IO Psych) from Liberty University, and is currently working on obtaining her PhD in IO Psych. Stephanie also holds many certifications from various organizations, including ones that involve psychological autopsies.
In 2022, Stephanie left her job as a police officer and now helps departments and corporations increase organizational safety and wellness through anecdotal and science-backed methods. Stephanie has been a contributing writer and a curriculum creator for a handful of organizations, and has been invited to speak for several conferences, associations, and trainings.
When not writing, teaching, or presenting, Stephanie enjoys spending time with her husband and young sons and taking care of her beloved dogs, cats, and chickens.