“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius
What does it mean to be content? What does it truly mean to you? Like many words connected to emotions and feelings, these can be interpreted in different ways; semantics plays a significant role in how we feel about ourselves and this affects our relationships. There are an estimated 7.347 billion people in the world and we all see the world in different ways. Our perceptions of ideas like ‘contentment’ may differ greatly. So take a moment to think of what ‘contentment’ means to you.
For me, it is experiencing inner peace and a feeling of being full already. Although we may have subtle differences in our understanding of the word ‘contentment’, I hope we can both agree how precious it is to be content with who you are and also with your life as it is.
Reaching a state of contentment can be quite a challenge; accepting and recognising what you have already achieved for many feels like giving up on striving for goals, ambition and making progress. The reason for this is that our hunter/gather brains are primed to seek more (food, shelter etc.) so if we rest on our laurels and enter a state of ‘being content’, our subconscious deep down perceives this as a possible threat to our survival.
However, the opposite is now true and the modern-day brain needs to realise that practising contentment will, in fact, prolong the length and quality of our precious lives; the hormones, serotonin and oxytocin which are released when we feel content, boost the immune system. Thankfully, most of us reading this will have enough food to eat so we can relax on that front.
Why Mindfulness Matters?
Learning the skill of being content in the moment will help you to learn the skill of being content with your life as a whole. Being in harmony with yourself and your world, feeling that you are enough, you have enough and that you are satisfied are wonderful feelings and the important thing is that this DOES NOT MEAN that you stop setting goals and progressing. Being content is, in fact, the springboard that allows you to achieve more. If you are not content in the first place then you can spend all of your life waiting to be happy and no matter what you achieve or progress you make, you will still feel a lack, a hole that never fills no matter how hard you try to please others or how much money you earn. Bringing your awareness to the present moment and feeling a sense of calmness in the here and now opens the door for you to feel content with yourself and understanding that constant striving for rewards is not your fault.
Seeking Contentment – The Hunter Gatherer Brain
In order for us to reach our full potential, it is essential to acknowledge and be grateful for what we already have in our lives, from the everyday basics to other, perhaps more enjoyable things such as hobbies and going on holidays. There are many reasons why people struggle to do this, not least the way the brain is constructed; the early and most primitive part of our brain evolved to help us survive in a harsh world where food and basic shelter were limited. This mammalian brain is programmed to hunt and gather, to keep seeking and not rest until food and shelter is found and then to start the process all over again.
Nowadays, we no longer need to hunt for the basics – most of us I hope that read this are in the fortunate position to have enough food on our tables, a roof over our heads and access to the internet. The ‘modern’ brain with its pre-frontal cortex is highly capable of learning how to be content and this is the part of the brain we need to cultivate and use and not the old mammalian brain which is concerned only with survival.
As the world adapts so must we
If you have ever found the novelty of something new (for example, a car, house, job promotion, handbag) quickly wearing off once you have actually got it then don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Chemically, what is happening is that dopamine is released in your brain when you are seeking something. When you are rewarded by acquiring the thing you then look for the next hit of dopamine which you are programmed to receive by searching.
Human beings have immense power, we can make conscious choices and decisions such as being grateful for who we are, where we are and all that we have. In short, we can wire our brains for contentment if we so choose.