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.