“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” —Socrates
There were many reasons that we chose to become minimalist and simplify our lives. We were frustrated with clutter. We discovered the time that was wasted managing our possessions. We realized that joy was not found in our possessions. And we determined that we value other things far more than physical belongings. This initial process of simplifying our home required energy, effort, and encouragement.
But the process of remaining minimalist and living this counter-cultural lifestyle against all odds requires something completely different. It requires contentment. Contentment is the lifeblood of minimalism. And without it, the journey towards minimalism is short-lived. Discontent will always rear its ugly head and become the great obstacle to fully thriving in a simple life.
Not only does contentment provide the opportunity for minimalism, it also reduces your stress level, improves your outlook, relaxes your body, and makes your life enjoyable. There is an unmistakable freedom that follows contentment: a freedom to be who you are, enjoy who you are, and live the life you were destined to live.
Yet in our consumeristic-culture where discontent is promoted and material gratification is encouraged, learning to be content can be very difficult. It is certainly a personal journey that we all must travel and nobody’s journey will look the same. Truly, there is no one-size-fits-all, seven-step program to fully-attain contentment in your life… but here are six keys that have helped us further develop contentment in our lives:
1. Become grateful. It is impossible to develop contentment without gratitude – they are inseparable. And a grateful person is one who has learned to focus on the good things in their life, not the things that they lack. When you begin to question what you have to be grateful for, just start making a list – a literal list of all the good things in your life. Don’t worry about finishing, you don’t need to. The simple discipline of beginning the exercise will undoubtedly shift your focus back to the many good things you already have.
2. Take control of your attitude. A person who lacks contentment in their life will often engage in “when and then thinking” – “when i get _______, then i will be happy.” Instead take control of your own life. Remember, your happiness is not reliant on the acquisition of any possession. Your happiness is based solely on your decision to be happy – and this may be one of the most important life lessons you can ever learn.
3. Break the habit of satisfying discontentment with acquisitions. For many of us, it has been ingrained into our lives that the proper way to diffuse discontent is to purchase the outward item that is seemingly causing the discontentment. Almost no energy is spent determining the true root of the discontent. Are you dissatisfied with your wardrobe? Go buy new clothes. Not content with your vehicle? Go buy a new one. We have gotten into the habit of satisfying our discontent by simply spending more money. We must break that habit. Understand that material possessions will never fully satisfy the desires of your heart (that’s why discontent always returns). The next time you recognize discontentment surfacing in your life, refuse to give into that bad habit. Instead, commit to better understand yourself and why the lack of that item is causing discontent. Only after you intentionally break this habit will true contentment begin to surface.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing your life with someone else’s will always lead to discontentment. There will always be people who “appear” to be better off than you and seemingly living the perfect life. But be advised, we always compare the worst of what we know about ourselves to the best assumptions that we make about others. Their life is never as perfect as your mind makes it out to be. You are unique. You are special. And it’s always better that way.
5. Help others. When you begin helping others, sharing your talents, time and money, you will find yourself learning to be content. The practice will give you a finer appreciation for what you own, who you are, and what you have to offer.
6. Be content with what you have, never with what you are. Never stop learning, growing, or discovering. Take pride in your personhood and the progress that you have made, but never become so content that you cannot find room for improvement. Contentment is not the same as complacency. As soon as you stop growing, you start dying.