There are two competing forces that stir up discontent within us.
On one hand, we live in a society and economic system that runs on discontent. From start to finish, businesses work hard to fuel within us a desire for more or different.
We’re constantly told to keep up with changing fashions, upgrade technology, desire this new automobile, even change the exterior of our appliances—all because we are missing out on something “better” if we don’t.
Influencers on every channel and social media outlet keep us guessing, and then informed, about what we’re missing out on. From the palm of our hand, they hold us in theirs.
As a result, we become discontent. We wish we had more, better, or different. We chase new looks and appearances, diets and fitness trends. We travel to new places, check out the newest destinations, or can’t wait to eat at the hottest new restaurant.
Every time, we find ourselves desiring something we don’t currently have. We become focused on what we don’t have, and lose focus on the good that we already do.
Of course, these external forces don’t function in a vacuum. They connect with an inner voice of discontent already inside us. Discontent is stirred up both inwardly and externally.
Hedonic adaptation is the phrase that sociologists give to this tendency. Essentially, hedonic adaptation is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
In other words, regardless of what we acquire or the life changes that occur, we slowly revert to the same level of happiness that we had before the change occurred.
If I thought more stuff would make me happier and would ultimately resolve my discontent, I would be mistaken. If I was discontent with my life before, I will eventually be discontent later—even after acquiring the desired item.
If, as humans, we believe a greater level of happiness can be discovered by simply acquiring something new or changing our circumstances, we will always be disappointed. Our internal voice will never be satisfied in this way.
In this way, both inwardly and externally, discontent is continually being stirred up in our heart and mind and soul.
What happens as a result of this discontent is we quickly lose sight of the good around us. That’s the very definition of discontentment: a dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances.
- In our bank accounts, we never have enough.
- With our possessions and property, we always desire more.
- With our bodies and appearance, we desire something different.
- Within our jobs, we dream of something better.
- In our marriages, we begin to focus on all the things we’d like to change.
Nothing is ever good enough…. because discontent is constantly being stirred up inside us.
But look around. There are so many good things around you!
And recognizing them is the first step to changing your attitude and discovering contentment in your life.
So how do we do it?
What intentional steps can we take to stay focused on the good?
Let me offer five:
1. Say it out loud.
The next time you are alone—at work, in the car, in the shower, or maybe right now, say this sentence out loud:
“You know what, I’ve got it pretty good.”
Don’t just think it, say it. Every time I say that sentence, I can’t stop with those words. I feel compelled to say more—continuing the thought rolls naturally off the tongue. I begin to immediately list something I have that is good.
It usually sounds something like this:
“You know what? I’ve got it pretty good…. I have a job that I enjoy, I have clothes on my back, I’ve got my health, I love my wife, I enjoy my kids…” and the list continues.
Give it a shot. The next time you are alone, see what immediately follows those words, “You know what, I’ve got it pretty good…”
2. Practice gratitude, daily.
Gratitude is best understood as a discipline, not an emotional response to circumstances. So practice it, every day. In a way that makes sense to you.
You can practice gratitude with your morning coffee, on your daily commute, during your prayer time, meditation time, or yoga session.
You can practice gratitude when you lay your head on the pillow or before you enjoy a meal with your family.
The important thing is to do it. The practice will immediately draw your focus to the good.
3. Remember what you liked in the first place.
Life isn’t perfect—it never has been and never will be. There is no perfect job, no perfect house, and no perfect marriage. Even the roses have thorns.
Over time, it seems, our natural tendency is to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. It seems to be the natural pull on our brains. But we can reverse this tendency by intentionally rolling back the clock in our mind.
What drew you to that job in the first place? What did you love about it when you first started? What are the qualities that drew you to your spouse initially? Why were you excited about the house/apartment the first day you moved in?
When you remember what you loved about your circumstance in the first place, you are again focusing back on the good.
4. Remember the positives.
When I talk about relationships with people, the question always seems to arise, “How do I get my spouse to be more ________ and less ___________?”
There’s a conversation to be had there, for sure. But I never begin the conversation by talking about how to change a spouse. Instead, I work hard to focus first on the positives.
Before we can talk about changing our spouse into the person we want them to be, we need to remind ourselves of all the good they bring into our lives.
Maybe they don’t clean up enough around the house, but are they the first to bring laughter into your home?
Maybe they aren’t as adventurous as you want, but do they bring a needed stability into your life?
Maybe they aren’t ____________, but are they ____________?
This same principle can be applied to so many circumstances in life.
Maybe my car isn’t fancy, but it’s paid for.
Maybe my house isn’t the biggest on the block, but it is the easiest to clean.
Maybe my job isn’t perfect, but it’s stable and I’m good at it.
In almost every case, there are positives to be found if we look for them.
5. Wage war against if/then thinking.
Work as hard as you can to live the best life that you can live. Never settle for anything less than being the best you that you can possibly be.
But don’t fall for if/then thinking along the way.
If/then thinking goes like this:
If x happens, then I will be happy.
This is dangerous thinking with no winners. It only spurs regret and discontent. There is no happiness to be found in it, because there is no finish line to the thought process.
If life can always be improved by changing or adding x, we will never be able to appreciate today for what it is.
Again, this doesn’t mean we become complacent and no longer strive to be the best version of ourselves. It just means we stop looking for happiness in changed circumstances and begin to appreciate all that we have today.
The battle in our mind to focus on the good is ever-present, but there certainly appear to be times in life when that battle is tougher than others.
If you are struggling to find the good in your life today, try out a few of those steps above.
You might be surprised to discover how good you actually have it.
I totally agree with piece
Gracias. Gracias. Gracias.
Me he guardado este artículo para releer en momentos de bajona, como decimos en Madrid, o cuando tú estado de ánimo está por los suelos.
I enjoy every word, please don’t stop doing that.
Every time I read something you’ve written, I find myself feeling better than before I read it. I thank you for being a wise and trusted resource. I seek you out when I need a refreshing dose of affirmation to cleanse my spiritual palate from the residue of capitalist culture.
Because of this article and your ‘Learning to Consider Gratitude a Discipline’ article. My husband and I are now practicing – before dinner, when we say grace, each of us give thanks to our Lord 5 things we are grateful for the day. We would not have started it if not for your articles.
It is starting to heal the bitterness, unfairness, unforgiveness & ungratefulness from my heart – which the CT scan show blockages! My heart is starting to heal!
my children are the best part of my Life. May be they aren’t cleaning after themselves, I have been very blessed to be home more to see them grow. Or I have a car to fix up and have been hooked on youtube. screening for parts of the tips that I can use. So many blessings and good things here. There are days rearranging is put out of sight until the feeling comes back again. Thanks for this pretty much practical post.
…once you believe this everything else will follow…0:)
Great suggestions, Joshua – just be ” thankful and look around for the good in your life today.” Some days are moreectasic and others are gloomer and doomer but your posts (with a soft tonic drink can help – never coffee) have always kept me up and going until now. And remember to just be always speaking well of yourself and to yourself, if I may add here as well.
Chelsea H says
I am thankful for being away from my job that I couldn’t fit in. This is the fourth job that I landed and supervised to keep up with their schedule. I am stunned by how much others can give themselves to their tasks when I desperately work hard to go through my first. I like to go through websites and fell for your way of life. Thanks for your loving words.
Jacob Clark says
Yes, I agree with many commentators and I want to say that this is indeed so. We often get hung up on some thoughts. This is especially bad when you start to get hung up on things that can really hurt you and your self-esteem. You think about it a lot and often and in the end you start to lose yourself. Many times I went through this until I realized that it was really necessary to get rid of such negative thoughts and surround myself with good and positive. And only in this case will you stop pumping yourself.
Ai Tee Yah says
Good read, as always. Thank you for your blog, I have subscribe to Becoming Minimalist years ago and receiving mail from you. I enjoy reading because it reminds me to keep it simple like I always want it to be and to be intentional with people (aldo many misinterpret me sometimes) haha
I follow the minimalist philosophy, just like a creed by Jesus.
I try to be minimalist in my clothes, in material things, in choices of what to buy or not, in food. With all the info and stuffs present to today, you get distracted by consumerism.
Aldo, I splurge a little on books that I love :)
It helps when you know what you want and stick to it. You don’t have to cope up with the FOMO thing.
Thank you. Keep posting and keep grounded!
Mary Fiore says
Good point, Ai, consumerism can become quite a distraction. You mention buying books as a fault, but I think of it as a lovely quality. Buying a printed book provides a gift for yourself and whoever receives it next, and it benefits the author and publishers. Thank you!
I love reading your posts but this was one of my favorites. Thank you.
Someone sent this to me. I found the post interesting with different angles from my standpoint. I haven’t made to my strong belief that I might make it to be cleaner. Very thankful for your post.
dinesh ghiya says
Great reminder of what matters in Life. One of your best. I read it frequently when I am discontent.
Someone have said happiness lies in contentment but healthy discontent is prelude to progress.
I am mostly quite content but get rattled by our politics. Unusual state of politics.
As a Christian, your perspective resonates powerfully with my world view and my personal mission statement. Especially in this time of worldwide upheaval it is so important to be brought back to basics, to remember what life is (or should be!) all about. I’m promoting your blog and your material on my social media sites and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People are searching, and discovering that contentment lies not in material things but in relationships and contentment. Thank you for your part in helping to open our eyes to see much more clearly what matters. God Bless you!
Amazing blog! Thanks, Joshua.
Thank you! This is very helpful, It is supportive and clarifying our needs. I have always had this problem with holding on and back to past items that are keepsake. But on the contrary never did that with others. This confinement time is great for tossing around and finding comfort in more pleasurable activities with our time. I like that you have connected the environment to how we actually live our life, it is new and refreshing.
Melissa Strader says
I have been reading your weekly posts for many years now. I always enjoy them however I especially loved this one. Thank you for your continued inspiration and encouragement to live our best lives, simply and by focussing on what those things that truly matter, rather than getting bogged down in the clutter and consumerism. Thank you!
joshua becker says
Joshua, I love this perspective. Focus on the good and counting the blessings we have is a great way to put life into the right perspective. I shared this with my family. Thank you!
Are the goods the lessons from our failures? That’s very pessimistic, Mitch .
Joe O'Reilly says
Thanks Joshua. Very inspiring.
Ana Tampanna says
This is a GREAT article! Thank you!!!
One of the most difficult aspects of minimalism for me has been to let go of things that are part of unfulfilled dreams. A box of video tapes for marketing my speaking career (which was ended by a family tragedy.) Books about being financially solvent…I will read them “someday.” Big files and thick organized notebooks of business info I don’t refer to.
Ana – you have made a very good observation about we tend to let go of goals that have been unfulfilled and not knowing that could be pursued further. LOVE ❤️ your comments. I wish you the best future successes.
What a statement in what you have written about the fear of missing out something “better” which is a perfect reflection of our society. Always running low in energy, time or money to spend endlessly. What are we as a society so afraid of, if so.
Thank you Joshua. You are truly an inspiration. ” You know what, I’ve got it pretty good too” I just can’t wait for your next post.
Your comments hit a chord with me today. I’ve been following your insights for more than a year, but today I felt the need to say thank you for what you do.
I feel blessed to have grown up in a household in which no matter what “tragedy” occurred my mother would say…”Just be thankful that…”. Tyou can fill in the blank with a variety of things from having the opportunity, or the funds to fix something that broke – like a car or washing machine,. You get the picture. This optimistic outlook has brought me far. I’ve suffered the loss of a spouse as a young adult leaving me to raise a child alone. I struggled with all the things a single parent fears but was able to always find a bright side in my life. Today my child is a married adult and I can’t tell you how often over the years I have heard her say to her spouse and friends “Just be thankful that…”.
In this time of sorrow, struggle and fear I am forever grateful to my mother for her legacy of thankfulness and hope. As we all struggle to find a new normal I truly wish that each of your readers can find something to be thankful for when times are tough.
It breaks my heart to hear that despite it all you have kept the faith to keep going and doing so well. I have recently – after reading Joshua’s new post – that i need to be more grateful everyday about what i have deserved, but that many people convince me that I have done nothing to earn it. So, today, i have learn to listen to myself and see the perspectives differently because like you did, i struggled to be confident in myself and lost in faith. For your sorrows I am sending you my warm wishes and best.
Sure, once you believe this everything else will follow…0:)
“Just be thankful that…” I LOVE that.
You are very welcome, Norma.
Beautiful message, thank you.
I am grateful for you and this website ??
Does anyone have any advice on how we can help those we love think more like this, and be content/grateful for the things they do have? Is it just role-modelling?
Joshua, I have been following you for years—- and I’ve got to say, this is your best post yet! Thank you for this!
Julie Mooney says
Thanks for dependably thoughtful posts. Always worthwhile.
Great words! ?
Valerie Rogers says
Humans are victims of our own ruminating thoughts, and that is our hangup. Search philosophy for some insight, like Taoism and stoicism for instance. Circumstances do change beyond our control where change is prudent at times; however, the hungry ghost will never be satisfied.
I especially liked the message today and plan to share it with my family. Thank you.
My wife is a nurse who cares for a paralyzed gentleman who breathes with a respirator. She has amazing conversations with him, and gains deep insights about life. Her patient loves watching sports, and has gratitude for his caregivers and quality of life despite his disability. His example, in turn, reminds my wife and I how important gratitude is in our daily lives.
Laurel Snyder says
Thank you Joshua for writing exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve been using your course and now Clutter app off and on for a few years now to help minimize my belongings and create a peaceful relaxing home. At first, I did have that thought, “if only my home was exactly like the ones on my Pinterest boards, then I’d be happy.” I now realize that happiness is NOW and not a destination along the way. Thanks for your encouragement and though my life is upside down due to the pandemic, I’m grateful for the “pause-button” so I have the time to work on my home and spend time with my family.
Cody Cupper says
I am thankful for people like you, Joshua, who have been called to inspire and encourage others to live better, happier lives. I have sincerely appreciated your books and all your posts on my journey to becoming a minimalist, and genuinely excited about deepening my relationship with God as well as the people in my life that I love. No more chasing after the wind—time to focus on the beauty of simplicity and what truly matters most. Thank you for your help.
Noel Minneci says
One of the best articles you have ever written! You know what? I’m glad you are out there doing what you do to change the balance to a more loving world. Keep on.
Lynne Adams says
I really needed to read this today. I’m feeling restless and unsettled with so much time alone during this quarantine. I have been trying to remember all the good things I have in my life to help dispel my discontent. This article is a great reminder to stay on the path of gratitude no matter what life brings us.
I really needed to read this today, thank you!!
Thank you Joshua. I too found this post especially helpful to me today and I love all your posts. When I am feeling discontent I see how my mind tries to find something to fix it. It never works. Friends told me long ago “ wherever you are or wherever you go, there you are” and so it is with this post. Acquiring “things” or “change” never extinguishes discontent. Gratitude does
Janet B. says
If I could have only one article to inspire me and remind me to to keep my balance with a focus on what is good it would be this one. This is one of your best! Thank you so much.
joshua becker says
Thank you for the encouraging words. I appreciate them very much.
Thank you for a wonderful post today. Gratitude really is the key to happiness.
Excellent article! A wonderful reminder to achieving joy and contentment! Thanks
Libby little says
I absolutely agree with you.
This was just what I needed this morning. Thank you, Joshua, for another uplifting post.
Sandra Imperatore says
We all strive to attain
…we get it there’s still pain
When we know things aren’t enough
We go after invisible stuff
Leigh Adams says
A little stoicism, a few of the twelve steps and even some Buddhism All great gratitude practices. Thanks for being part of the communities helping me add value and bring joy to my life and the lives of others.
Debbie M. says
I really appreciate your blog and your writing. It is so inspirational. This post is perfectly timed – just what I needed to hear today. Thank you for all you do.
I truly LOVE all that you post. The ‘posts’ inspire me. I believe that now, I am a 65% minimalist and LOVE where I am. With your help, I hope to acquire the additional 35%. Thank you for everything, Joshua.
Great post – I particularly found the sentence in #4 helpful: “Maybe they aren’t ____________, but are they ____________”
I love how it authentically expresses and respects your thoughts/feelings while at the same time reframing the discontent with gratitude.
I used to keep a gratitude journal and while it felt good to focus on the positives I also felt like I was ignoring/shoving down the negatives – your sentence helps immensely with that issue and you’ve inspired me to write in it again. Thanks Joshua!
This article has opened my eyes. I have been struggling with discontent recently, your words hit home and from now on I shall endeavour to count my blessings. Thank you !
joshua becker says
If I have helped in any way, I am happy.
Great post, thank you!! I was actually encouraged by your definition of “hedonic adaptation”. It works the opposite way as well. After our son passed away, I felt I could never be happy again. But seven years later, I’m finding that I have returned to about the same level of happiness I had before. I have a hopeful nature, so although I get sad at times, now I focus on the hope of seeing him again. It is well with my soul. ?
joshua becker says
That is very true. The principle holds true in tragedy as well.
Thanks for reminding us about living in the moment and having gratitude as a key pillar in our lives.