The Holiday Season, so exciting in childhood and adolescence, tends to weigh gloomier with the years. “Tis the season to be merry” and yet you are not. You already know you cannot force yourself to be “merry”: most adults realize it sooner or later. We are offered many suggestions to help us “become happy”: numerous techniques, medicinal compounds, and often alcohol and drugs appear necessary to become joyous.
But what if that “urgency to be happy” is simply misguided: What if happiness is the wrong pursuit?
I know I am not original on that. Schools of thoughts, spirituality and the arts have contemplated the pursuit of happiness for millennia. But I have a very simple way of looking at happiness. If indeed happiness and unhappiness are emotional opposites, it seems that unhappiness is an easy winner. It is very easy to become unhappy when you are happy, yet it is hard to become happy when you are unhappy. It is very easy to sustain unhappiness and very hard to sustain happiness. So, it seems that with regard to happiness, our emotional balance is heavily tilted toward the gloomy side.
Sounds depressing, literally. But what if happiness is not necessary to reach a satisfying emotional existence? Can this finicky emotion be replaced by another, more stable, controllable state? A state of mind not so dependent on the vagaries of life?
My quest to offer a tangible, alternative goal for emotional well-being, has led me to substitute happiness with contentment.
Contentment is a decision, a state of mind, something that can be attained by one’s own powers – irrespective of one’s circumstances. Contentment is the outcome of the relationship between you and yourself. No one can take it away from you, and once attained, it can be sustained no matter what comes your way. You can practice contentment just like anything else, if you know how.
You know the pleasure that comes from being commended on a job well done. It is so satisfying that we sometimes “fish for compliments”, or any form of recognition. Too much “fishing”, and we feel and are perceived as pleasers that would do anything for positive feedback. Done too little, we are viewed as aloof or disinterested. Indeed, reliance on others’ compliments is very problematic. We should not want to spend our lives hoping to please others to get approval. But there is someone, whose constant presence in your life assures that no positive thing you do would go unrecognized. It is, of course, you. Yet, we are so prone to torture ourselves for mistakes while taking the good aspects of our daily life for granted, thereby missing out on constant and readily available sources of pleasure.
So here is a simple exercise: try to say to yourself “good job” for everything you do well. It does not matter if you always do it well. In fact, this is even a more reason to congratulate yourself. You brushed your teeth for two minutes? “Good Job!”. Made yourself a good cup of coffee? “Good Job!” got to work on time? “Good job!” etc. You get the idea.
Congratulate yourself on things well done in your everyday life. Nothing is too small, nothing is too embarrassing – you are doing it in the privacy of your inner world!! Try it for a week, and you will see how much nicer it is to spend time with yourself. Enjoying your own company is one of the major tenets of contentment.