In the words of Dalai Lama, “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes - I already have everything that I really need.’”
During this holiday season, what if we embraced contentment? Yes, it’s much harder said than done, but dare we say that contentment may be one of the most important financial principles of all. Here’s how.
Before we dive into the meaning, effects, and ways of pursuing contentment, we understand that some are struggling with very difficult financial situations. As you read this article, know that this message does not suggest that contentment is a cure for financial hardship. Personal finances are unique, and often complex, our intent is never to diminish that. In fact, that recognition is what drives our commitment to helping our members improve their financial lives.
What Contentment Is
Contentment is described as a state of satisfaction with what we already have and being at peace with where we are in life. Contentment is powerful, as it helps us look past the need for “more,” and instead, focus on what truly makes us happy.
In her book Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown defines contentment as “the feeling of completeness, appreciation, and enoughness.” She further describes it as a “comfy, old-pair-of-jeans.” Since it cultivates peacefulness, contentment just feels good to sit in.
What Contentment is Not
Contentment is not complacency; this is a critical distinction. While many have slightly different definitions of contentment, it is important to realize that contentment is not a reason to give up or stop pursuing goals that we have set for ourselves. Contentment allows us to be satisfied in the now and gives us a deeper appreciation of what is to come. We can still pursue contentment while moving forward and working toward our financial goals.
Why Should We Pursue Contentment?
What are the effects of contentment and how do we benefit from pursuing it? Let’s explore just a few ways below.
1. It helps our mental health and overall wellbeing.
Contentment is fostered in gratitude and appreciation. Both emotions are linked to greater life satisfaction and well-being. Studies have shown that they are correlated with good physical health (better sleep and decreased blood pressure) and enhanced mental health (increased creativity and improved decision-making skills).
2. It helps us save money.
Contentment allows us to be satisfied with what we already have. As a result, those who are content may end up saving more money. They are also less likely to spend on the latest “must-have” item. Instead, they are more likely to be better prepared for unexpected financial challenges and are more likely to retire in a solid financial position.
3. It helps us manage debt more effectively.
When a large portion of our income goes to debt payments, it makes it difficult to save money, pursue goals, or prepare for the future. When we choose contentment, we are more likely to think twice before swiping the credit card and taking out unnecessary debit. Being content helps us reap long-term goals versus short-term gratifications. And in the end, we become more secure and more financially healthy.
4. It helps us be more generous.
Discontentment breeds jealousy and comparison. Conversely, contentment has a way of shifting our inward focus to outward awareness - allowing us to see the needs of others and encouraging us to step in to help. Contentment is contagious in the best possible way!
So, How Do We Become Content?
While it would be nice if there were, there simply aren’t any absolute ways to achieve contentment. This process doesn’t look the same for each person and what works for one may not work for the next! What we do know is that contentment takes intentionality. It’s a mindset. It’s something we must pursue continuously. With that in mind, we gathered a few ideas that might help you get started.
1. Do an honest self-evaluation.
Sometimes the first step in the contentment process is an honest evaluation of your current situation. As we walk through life, it can be easy to convince ourselves that we’re either in a better or worse position than we truly are.
Examining our current situation gives us the insight to understand the areas we need to focus on as we set goals and continue our financial wellness journey. It can also reveal if we’re in a better position than we may have realized, giving us peace-of-mind and fostering a sense of gratefulness!
2. Set goals for yourself based on your values and needs.
We often fall into comparison without even realizing it! With the accessibility of social media and the influencer culture of today, we’re more vulnerable now than ever to being influenced by those around us financially. While friends, family, and public figures may have the newest devices, go on extravagant trips, and have fine dining experiences, it is important to remember that those are not universal measures of success.
As we pursue contentment, we must be intentional about setting goals based on our own values and measurements of success! Contentment can empower us to become financially free, as we ignore the need for more and prioritize what is most important to us.
3. Focus on gratitude!
Although gratitude may not be our most natural and immediate response in situations that don’t seem all that favorable, intentionally choosing to be grateful shifts our perspectives and allows us to focus on all that we have rather than pine after all that we don’t have.
Cultivating contentment isn’t easy, but it is worth it! Being content can positively affect all areas of life, especially your emotional and financial wellness. With life-changing benefits like those, it’s worth getting started today!