Contentment

Reviewed May 26, 2017

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Summary

Aspects of contentment

  • Gratitude
  • Ability to forgive
  • Having a purpose
  • Positive thinking or faith

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

—Helen Keller

What is contentment, and how do I get it?

This is the question that has kept poets, prophets, and philosophers busy for thousands of years. Why? Because life is a fragile and largely unpredictable journey. The stresses, strain, worry, and pain of daily living conspire to steal the joy and contentment that we intuitively crave. Which begs the question: Is it possible to be truly content in such a stress-filled and tumultuous world?

The answer is yes.

Research has suggested the ingredients of contented living are not found in some deep psychological theory or even in our biochemistry; rather, they include:

  • Gratitude
  • The ability to forgive
  • Having a purpose
  • Positive thinking or faith

Contentment is the consequence of having a positive attitude.

Sara Ban Breathnach's best-selling book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy teaches that expressing gratitude for what one has is the foundation of contentment, which is the basis of experiencing joy in life.

Recent research results on contentment agree. In one study, investigators found a correlation between gratitude, physical health, and contentment. The study involved the comparison of three groups. The first group was asked to keep a daily log of five ongoing complaints. A second group listed five ways in which they thought they were better off or superior to their peers, and the third group was asked to write down five things they were grateful for each day. In addition, all participants were asked to keep a record of their moods and physical health each day.

Participants who kept gratitude lists reported having greater energy, greater overall feelings of well-being, and fewer health complaints than those who focused on their problems or those who gloated.

Many behavioral scientists believe that if attitudes of gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness were effectively taught, people would experience more contentment in their lives. Consider Mother Teresa, who lived her entire life in the poverty of Calcutta, India, and who at the end of her life said, “I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”

Contrast this with what most malcontented middle-class Westerners complain about each day:

I’d be happy if I …

  • Could lose weight
  • Had a better job
  • Lived in a bigger house
  • Made more money

In his best seller, The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren explains that knowing one’s purpose beyond the temporal material and physical pleasures is the key to contented and joy-filled living. Knowing that we were created for a purpose beyond our own needs creates spiritual contentment and peace of mind.

Similarly, developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the cornerstones of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA members do not spend months in therapy to overcome their negative emotions. To live sober, contented lives, those recovering from a drinking problem are asked to be grateful for all that they have. Relapse occurs when ingratitude, resentments, and unforgiveness seep back into daily consciousness. Those who attend AA meetings regularly attest to the fact that feelings of gratitude always trump anger, fear, and resentment.

Research at the University of Michigan supports this reasoning. Investigators showed that positive emotions like gratitude actually neutralize harmful emotions such as anger and anxiety. The author concluded that it is easier and faster for people to inculcate gratitude and contentment and other positive emotional states than to struggle to rid themselves of negative feelings.

How does one develop gratitude?

Most experts recommend keeping a daily or weekly journal of the things you are thankful for. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the rewards can be tremendous. Think of the positive change that could occur in a family when stressed-out working parents shift their focus from what they don’t have and begin saying how grateful they are for what they do have, such as their marriage, kids, job, etc. 

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough. Oxford University Press, 2004; Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Warner Books, 1995; The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Zondervan, 2002; Fredrickson BL. (2001). “The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.” American Journal of Psychology; 56(3):218-26.

Summary

Aspects of contentment

  • Gratitude
  • Ability to forgive
  • Having a purpose
  • Positive thinking or faith

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

—Helen Keller

What is contentment, and how do I get it?

This is the question that has kept poets, prophets, and philosophers busy for thousands of years. Why? Because life is a fragile and largely unpredictable journey. The stresses, strain, worry, and pain of daily living conspire to steal the joy and contentment that we intuitively crave. Which begs the question: Is it possible to be truly content in such a stress-filled and tumultuous world?

The answer is yes.

Research has suggested the ingredients of contented living are not found in some deep psychological theory or even in our biochemistry; rather, they include:

  • Gratitude
  • The ability to forgive
  • Having a purpose
  • Positive thinking or faith

Contentment is the consequence of having a positive attitude.

Sara Ban Breathnach's best-selling book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy teaches that expressing gratitude for what one has is the foundation of contentment, which is the basis of experiencing joy in life.

Recent research results on contentment agree. In one study, investigators found a correlation between gratitude, physical health, and contentment. The study involved the comparison of three groups. The first group was asked to keep a daily log of five ongoing complaints. A second group listed five ways in which they thought they were better off or superior to their peers, and the third group was asked to write down five things they were grateful for each day. In addition, all participants were asked to keep a record of their moods and physical health each day.

Participants who kept gratitude lists reported having greater energy, greater overall feelings of well-being, and fewer health complaints than those who focused on their problems or those who gloated.

Many behavioral scientists believe that if attitudes of gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness were effectively taught, people would experience more contentment in their lives. Consider Mother Teresa, who lived her entire life in the poverty of Calcutta, India, and who at the end of her life said, “I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”

Contrast this with what most malcontented middle-class Westerners complain about each day:

I’d be happy if I …

  • Could lose weight
  • Had a better job
  • Lived in a bigger house
  • Made more money

In his best seller, The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren explains that knowing one’s purpose beyond the temporal material and physical pleasures is the key to contented and joy-filled living. Knowing that we were created for a purpose beyond our own needs creates spiritual contentment and peace of mind.

Similarly, developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the cornerstones of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA members do not spend months in therapy to overcome their negative emotions. To live sober, contented lives, those recovering from a drinking problem are asked to be grateful for all that they have. Relapse occurs when ingratitude, resentments, and unforgiveness seep back into daily consciousness. Those who attend AA meetings regularly attest to the fact that feelings of gratitude always trump anger, fear, and resentment.

Research at the University of Michigan supports this reasoning. Investigators showed that positive emotions like gratitude actually neutralize harmful emotions such as anger and anxiety. The author concluded that it is easier and faster for people to inculcate gratitude and contentment and other positive emotional states than to struggle to rid themselves of negative feelings.

How does one develop gratitude?

Most experts recommend keeping a daily or weekly journal of the things you are thankful for. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the rewards can be tremendous. Think of the positive change that could occur in a family when stressed-out working parents shift their focus from what they don’t have and begin saying how grateful they are for what they do have, such as their marriage, kids, job, etc. 

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough. Oxford University Press, 2004; Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Warner Books, 1995; The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Zondervan, 2002; Fredrickson BL. (2001). “The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.” American Journal of Psychology; 56(3):218-26.

Summary

Aspects of contentment

  • Gratitude
  • Ability to forgive
  • Having a purpose
  • Positive thinking or faith

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

—Helen Keller

What is contentment, and how do I get it?

This is the question that has kept poets, prophets, and philosophers busy for thousands of years. Why? Because life is a fragile and largely unpredictable journey. The stresses, strain, worry, and pain of daily living conspire to steal the joy and contentment that we intuitively crave. Which begs the question: Is it possible to be truly content in such a stress-filled and tumultuous world?

The answer is yes.

Research has suggested the ingredients of contented living are not found in some deep psychological theory or even in our biochemistry; rather, they include:

  • Gratitude
  • The ability to forgive
  • Having a purpose
  • Positive thinking or faith

Contentment is the consequence of having a positive attitude.

Sara Ban Breathnach's best-selling book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy teaches that expressing gratitude for what one has is the foundation of contentment, which is the basis of experiencing joy in life.

Recent research results on contentment agree. In one study, investigators found a correlation between gratitude, physical health, and contentment. The study involved the comparison of three groups. The first group was asked to keep a daily log of five ongoing complaints. A second group listed five ways in which they thought they were better off or superior to their peers, and the third group was asked to write down five things they were grateful for each day. In addition, all participants were asked to keep a record of their moods and physical health each day.

Participants who kept gratitude lists reported having greater energy, greater overall feelings of well-being, and fewer health complaints than those who focused on their problems or those who gloated.

Many behavioral scientists believe that if attitudes of gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness were effectively taught, people would experience more contentment in their lives. Consider Mother Teresa, who lived her entire life in the poverty of Calcutta, India, and who at the end of her life said, “I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”

Contrast this with what most malcontented middle-class Westerners complain about each day:

I’d be happy if I …

  • Could lose weight
  • Had a better job
  • Lived in a bigger house
  • Made more money

In his best seller, The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren explains that knowing one’s purpose beyond the temporal material and physical pleasures is the key to contented and joy-filled living. Knowing that we were created for a purpose beyond our own needs creates spiritual contentment and peace of mind.

Similarly, developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the cornerstones of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA members do not spend months in therapy to overcome their negative emotions. To live sober, contented lives, those recovering from a drinking problem are asked to be grateful for all that they have. Relapse occurs when ingratitude, resentments, and unforgiveness seep back into daily consciousness. Those who attend AA meetings regularly attest to the fact that feelings of gratitude always trump anger, fear, and resentment.

Research at the University of Michigan supports this reasoning. Investigators showed that positive emotions like gratitude actually neutralize harmful emotions such as anger and anxiety. The author concluded that it is easier and faster for people to inculcate gratitude and contentment and other positive emotional states than to struggle to rid themselves of negative feelings.

How does one develop gratitude?

Most experts recommend keeping a daily or weekly journal of the things you are thankful for. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the rewards can be tremendous. Think of the positive change that could occur in a family when stressed-out working parents shift their focus from what they don’t have and begin saying how grateful they are for what they do have, such as their marriage, kids, job, etc. 

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough. Oxford University Press, 2004; Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Warner Books, 1995; The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Zondervan, 2002; Fredrickson BL. (2001). “The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.” American Journal of Psychology; 56(3):218-26.

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