The Unmistakable Freedom of Contentment and How to Find It

freedom-of-contentment

“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” —Socrates

There were many reasons 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 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 accompanies 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.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Deb J says

    Great post. I agree with it so much. I have found contentment in my relationship with God and the rest falls into place. My worth, success or lack of, my future, and who I am do not depend on things. They come from my relationship with God. Out of that contentment in Him comes the freedom to be who I am and to not need the “things.”

  2. says

    #1 and #5 resonate most with me.

    About a year ago, I actually started a “thankful blog”. The idea was to post one thing a day I was thankful for…it has revolutionized my thinking, and I find myself reflecting throughout the day what I am particularly thankful for.

    And when we open ourselves up to helping others, it nurtures an attitude of thankfulness for what we have been blessed with.

  3. says

    Thanks, great motivational post. Sometimes we need a reminder that the moment we live in is now, and the only time we can be happy is now!

  4. says

    This is a great post, so much that I agree with, especially “contentment is the lifeblood of minimalism”

    Sometimes I feel like there’s an element of the simplicity/minimalism movement that can have a sort of reverse discontentment, too. Where most people are discontent about not having stuff, they are just as discontent about having stuff.

    Like when you said, “when i get _______, then i will be happy”, their’s would read, “when declutter” or “when I get down to 100 or 50 things, then I will be happy.”

    It’s not true with more stuff, and it’s not true with less stuff, either. So I guess what I’m saying is that contentment is totally a matter of the heart, and you can have a discontent heart, no matter how much stuff you have.

    Good stuff!

    • deanna says

      Thanks for that thought…it’s something I’ve been struggling with lately. I know a clutter free environment makes me feel more peaceful, but sometimes I get frustrated with the process and the slowness of my progress.

    • Maureen Searles says

      I have gotten rid of most of my knick knacks and still feel ‘cluttered’. I give up. My kids are raised so there are only dog toys, leashes, dog meds floating around. The goldfish pond which was supposed to be an enjoyable hobby is always green. It had about 500 tadpoles and baby fish so I didn’t want to clean it. The patio table is constantly accumulating things that I use throughout the day. (citronella candles, watering can for the flowers, bug repellant, coffee cup) pfft. It never ends. The coffee table has dog ointments, dog ear drops, a one dollar bill, a pack of buttons that came with a winter coat (it is summer, i don’t know why they are there), a bottle of lotion, a 7up can, a ponytail holder and a hair clip. I cleaned it off yesterday. I am hopeless. Someone gave us a huge bag of corn so that is on the stove. Where are you supposed to put corn anyway? I am so tired. oh, and the dog hair. How could I forget the dog hair?

      • Terri McDaniel says

        One thing that really helped me was learning to do all tasks that take a minute or less. Like putting the ointment back where it belongs. I too am guilty of having a table with too many miscellaneous things on it. But the one minute rule really helps. When I make tea, I clean the pot right then. So at the end of the day, I only have a few dishes to contend with,.

  5. jonny says

    great, i really needed to read this this week.

    i wonder have you considered doing a spin-off blog, on the same areas of contentment, simplicity etc but with more emphasis on the faith/christianity side of things?

  6. says

    For me, #1 and #6 are perfect bookends. Be grateful for what you have, but never stop learning and growing. I’ve been practicing a daily gratitude session for about a year now and I love how much it relaxes me. I have such a sense of calm that enables me to learn and grow with a much clearer head.

    Awesome post!

  7. says

    Great post – I’m just starting on this road. We’re burb-dwellers, too, only out here in the midwest.
    My original goal was to get rid of half of everything. It’s a job, but it’s paying off BIG TIME.

  8. says

    I’m a minimalist by nature. I like everything streemlined and matching. Clutter overwhelms me. We are definatly a family with less (except by quanity of children, haha!) and do prefer the minimalist life.
    Ive enjoyed all if your posts but taking particularly good advise away from this one. I often find myself playing the comparison game. Ill be making my “grateful list” today. What a wonderful reminder of the many areas of our lives we are blessed. Another is quality not quantity. I tend to buy what is on sale and not what we truely want/need. Thinking if I can impliment that it will make a big difference.
    Thank you for the guidance and encouragment to improve!

  9. says

    I have often held that wisdom lies in contentment, and there is no contentment in acquisition of “stuff”, it just always begs for more. I am not saying per se that everyone should become minimalists, but it certainly is difficult for a rich man (one with many possessions) to be truly content, and in such a case it is better to get rid of it all, and discover that one can live with the barest minimum (isn’t that a good definition of minimalism?)

    I particularly promote the view that we live the way we do because of what were “sold” on. This means that we really do not decide for ourselves what lifestyle, philosophy or goals we want to buy for ourselves (much less what products or services we use). There is a great conspiracy to market a very limited perspective to us. Freedom means leaving this limited scope behind, becoming purpose driven and taking control of our destiny.

    For some this may mean traditional success, but for others it would mean a new and idiosyncratic life design. How much richer would this world be if we each followed our own vision, and how much more content would we be if we no longer measured ourselves by the world’s standard and tried to keep up with the Jones’s? When we are fulfilled in ourselves, anything we do or have will add to that, and conversely – if we are not, all will add to our frustration and discontent.

    Fantastic article. Thank you.

  10. says

    I am so glad you posted this truth. Without the foundation of contentment, we can’t be content even as a minimalist. I am reminded of a greater truth in 1 Timothy 6:6.

  11. says

    Thank you, Josh, for your support and encouragement in my journey

    “Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
    Lao Tzu

  12. Pavel says

    I like how you written that is great post. When you enjoy your life without consumer hysteria you feel more fulfilled.

    Thank you, Josh.

  13. says

    I believe I have been enlightened by the minimalist way of living and thinking and am grateful for your many insightful posts and guest bloggers input. I am not particularly concerned I will relapse into “conspicuous consumption” BUT it is disheartening seeing people I know and love suffer over never having enough and wanting more and more. I guess I am looking for ways to help enlighten others – this “minimalist mentality” feels SO GOOD—I want others to share in the contentment.

  14. says

    Erich Fromm, author of “To Have or To Be?” asks, “If I am what I have and what I have is lost, who then am I?”

    To exist in the “having” mode is never the path to contentment (regardless of what our culture might suggest!) It is, rather, in the “being” mode where we should seek to live our lives, and adopting a minimalist mindset is certainly a good example of this! :-)

  15. Colette says

    I read a quote from Joel Osteen about being grateful. It said something like, someone on earth would gladly trade places with you, right where you are. Thank God for everything you have. This post was fantastic (as always) and the other one you wrote about life not being perfect. These are two things I am trying to stay aware of. It is amazing how God puts things like this right in front of you because it is what He wants us to understand and get. Thanks again. :)

  16. tashanicole says

    “we always compare the worst of what we know about ourselves to the best assumptions that we make about others”…… That is SO true yet I have never thought of it that way. Thank you for another great post.

  17. says

    This was just what I was needing today. I’ve been having issues with ‘smaller living’ and ‘less stuff’ envy recently. I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated that my decluttering doesn’t seem to be moving along at the pace I’d like and on top of that my husband and children aren’t really interested in reducing their stuff any further. Some days it feels like I’m drowning in everyone else’s stuff. So from today I’m going to start writing down the things that I’m grateful for and try to keep a record of how far we have actually come in the last year. I wish I’d taken photos of before to compare with now but I can still take them now to remind me in the future. Thanks for this post :)

  18. Teresa says

    I went to a home yesterday that family just moved into. Huge home and lots if stuff. A part of me wanted to cry because my house is so small. They were showing off everything and I felt the green eyed monster rear her head.

    Then I realized that none of the other people there live in a McMansion like that. We were the normal ones and I felt better.

  19. NikkiZ says

    Joshua,
    I wanted to comment about practicing “Gratitude” . The discipline of making a gratitude list every day for the past 3 years has significantly shifted my life. During a particularly challenging portion of my life I was spiritually and financially broken. I was riddled with guilt that my children would “do without”. I began a daily emailed gratitude list.
    A transformation has taken place, I see and appreciate thinks I never even paid attention to, much less took the time to enjoy. Over and over my faith has been restored as I always “have what I need for today” My relationship with my children has clarity and much more communication.
    I did get to see you speak in Gretna, Nebraska recently.
    I am grateful for that.
    NikkiZ

  20. Joseph says

    “As soon as you stop growing, you start dying.”

    This is the best quote! I will start using this as my mantra to continue my quest for lifelong learning. Thanks!

  21. Debbie says

    I look at this as a journey with a very long term destination. I don’t give myself grades on my “success” I just keep trying to clean up the issues.

  22. Lucas says

    Joshua, I have been following your blog and I truly do appreciate your articles and advice. Your articles have led me to a path towrds minimalism. Despite many changes and personal growth I am having difficulty attaining what I want most and what I believe almost all of us want. Number 2 on this article and in many other articles you say happiness is a decision and a choice. I am very greatful for my loved ones and blessings and I truly try to be happy. I am involved in my community and often volunteer in various charities. However despite this, I feel an emptiness inside. It is very difficult to explain. I am a religious person and do have an active prayer life so this is not the “void” that only God can fill as many would describe. This emptiness is of a different nature. I believe it has to do with a break up over 2 years ago. Since then I have never been able to get in to another relationship. Have you or anyone here felt this emptiness? Is there a cure? Thank you for any help.

  23. Penna M says

    Thank you, Joshua for your great posts! I live in Kenya, and as with a lot of other cultures, success is considered to be a function of how much one owns. Whenever I try sharing some of the ideas from your blog, I get funny stares. Coming from a culture of want, nobody really wants to be told to be content with less. It is considered unambitious and a waste of talent to live with less.
    However, your blog really inspires me to continue on this journey, as I learn to be content with less. And not just because I cannot afford it, but because of the freedom of living simply.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. M & M | Hjertets Renhed | March 10, 2010
  2. Investing In Yourself | December 13, 2011
  3. Gratitude. It Matters. | November 22, 2012

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