Cultivating Contentment

Nothing cultivates a greater sense of satisfaction than noticing beauty and feeling gratitude.

Kelly Burkhart, Life Coach

Photo Credit: LoggaWiggler via Pixabay

I was in a class recently and to illustrate a part of the training we were encouraged to explore the space we were in, to notice and really take in what was beautiful or pleasant to the our senses. We were reminded to include all the little things that are often overlooked. It was a sunny, fall day as I wandered outside. With that kind of attention, the simple beauty of a multi-shaded leaf, spiraling to the ground, was striking and I couldn’t help noticing the deep sense of fullness and contentment it elicited.

Most dictionaries will tell you that contentment is a result of fulfilled wishes, expectations, or needs, and the pleasure felt when our needs are met.

Karla McKlaren, author of The Language of Emotions, puts a slightly more personal twist on the dictionary definition by explaining that contentment results from living up to our own expectations, accomplishing a goal or doing our work well.

The training I mentioned was working with material from Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson. This book illustrates how the brain evolved to hold on to negative experiences and quickly release the positive ones. It also shows us how to override that tendency by working directly with our three core needs of safety, satisfaction and connection.

Tendencies to feel anxiety, worry or fear could indicate a need to cultivate a greater sense of safety. If that’s the case for you, click over to this post for some suggestions for cultivating and anchoring feelings of safety.

This time we’ll look at our core need for satisfaction and the contentment we feel when it’s met.

I often work with people going through transitional times in their lives. On a regular basis, I’m navigating my own transitions. Life is a series of constant change so none of us are strangers to transition. And,  transitions are often borne out of a need for greater satisfaction, meaning, purpose. So tending to this need is something we can all benefit from mastering.

There are some reliable indicators that we need a greater experience of satisfaction in our lives. Feeling thwarted, frustrated or blocked are good indicators. Likewise, if we find ourselves feeling driven but without meaningful results, it might be time to slow down and take another approach.

Cultivating satisfaction. Pleasure, gratitude, and beauty are reliable gateways to satisfaction, and readily accessible if we develop the eyes to see them. Even when things aren’t going well and we’re feeling frustrated or disappointed, there is a sunset or a child’s laughter, the scent of your favorite tea or a favorite sweater within reach. Come into your body and let your senses align you with the beauty and pleasure that surrounds you, even in the most difficult times.

Gratitude for these can transform the moment, a few minutes or maybe even an entire day. Powerful lessons can unfold when we open into gratitude. A practical magic happens. And our lives feel more full, more rich, more complete.

I’ve written about these topics so often that I hope the links will support you with a deeper dive if that’s what you need. And here’s one more. As you cultivate satisfaction, use Rick Hanson’s practice of H.E.A.L. to anchor those satisfying moments and build contentment into a resource. Have or notice the experience. Enrich it by engaging your senses & staying with it for 30-, 60-, 90-seconds. Absorb it. Let it land. Soak it in.

These suggestions aren’t meant to discount or trivialize the things that aren’t working. If you’re truly lacking satisfaction with your life in a deep way, you may be ready for a substantial change. Maybe you’re ready for a career change, a relationship change or some other change of course. Maybe you’re experiencing a loss that needs to be grieved or take practical steps toward a meaningful goal. Get support to help you clarify what you need and take action.

And, regularly internalizing the places in your life where genuine satisfaction exists will provide a strong foundation for taking whatever practical steps you need to take.

This week the feel of winter has taken up residence in my neighborhood. I don’t have to look far to find examples of beauty. Intricately fringed ice crystals covering the walls of the greenhouse. The boundless joy of my fluffy dog as she spins in the snow. The deep pleasure in my bones when the golden sun lights up these shortening days.

Try it yourself. Wander through your home, your office, your backyard. Find the beauty in the small details of your life.


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