Cultivating Contentment

Rhododendron in June

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr

In my last post, I asked you to make three lists:  things that make you happy, things you feel would make you happier if you had them and things you don’t like. Today, you’ll begin using these lists to cultivate contentment in your everyday life.

I’m sure most of you have seen the “serenity prayer” (quoted above). Whether or not you’re religious (just drop “God” if you’re not), this is a fantastic approach to increasing your level of contentment.

Today you’ll go over your first list (good things you already have) to find some of the things you can change, in this case, figuring out how to get more of the things you enjoy. You’ll also practice appreciating what you have.

Finding Contentment Now

Hopefully you thought of a lot of things you already have that make you happy. Review your list, selecting the items you’re satisfied with, the ones you feel you have enough of.

Take a few moments to appreciate these things and resolve to try to be grateful for these when you experience them. It will probably take a while to get into the habit, but that’s okay. Even if you remember to appreciate only one extra thing a day, it will noticeably increase your overall contentment.

If nothing on your lists fits this description, try to think of simpler pleasures, no matter how small – perhaps that feeling when you first crawl into bed and put your head on the pillow, your first cup of coffee in the morning or your baby’s smile. Add these to your list.

More of the Good Stuff

Next, identify the things you have now, but would like to have more of. Of those, some will probably be pretty easy for you to add into your life.

Your first reaction might be “I don’t have time to add anything else to my day,” but don’t stop there. Take a few minutes to really think about it.

I might wonder when I could find extra time to just sit in the sun, for example. But why would I have to just sit in the sun? I can enjoy the sunshine even if I’m busy doing something else. If it’s a sunny day, I might sit on the deck to blog, trim the dogs’ nails or help my son with his homework.

Another simple thing that makes me happy is dark chocolate. I probably shouldn’t add more chocolate to my diet, but eating one small square a day, savoring each bite, brings more contentment than eating a whole candy bar in one sitting.

Still Wanting More

You’ll probably still have some items on your list that you wish you had more of but can’t think of any realistic way to add to your life right now. That’s okay.

One reason you’re becoming a minimalist is so you’ll have more time in the future to do the things you enjoy, and as you declutter and downsize, you’ll find it easier to add experiences and activities that bring you contentment. Less time dusting knick-knacks means more time for enjoyable activities.

Also, after you’ve made some progress in downshifting your life, you’re likely to find that your priorities change. You may find that you’re no longer interested in some of the things on your list.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

– William Morris 

Even minimalists have “stuff’ they really enjoy. The goal is not to get rid of all your possessions, but to keep only those that you value.

You may have noticed I listed my heated mattress pad as one of the things that makes me happy. It might be more accurate to say it’s the experience of getting into a warm bed that I enjoy, but the reality is that many activities and experiences that cultivate contentment do involve stuff.

A few of  my simple pleasures are knitting, baking bread and writing. I believe these interests fit well with a simple lifestyle, but all three require tools and supplies.

When you’re decluttering, get rid of the items you never use, the things you don’t appreciate, the gifts you keep only out of guilt. When you’re simplifying your schedule, cut out the optional activities that don’t bring you satisfaction. Hold on to the possessions and hobbies that bring you contentment.

Contentment Is Not Always Simple

If you read my About Me page, you probably noticed that we have a lot of animals. The last two that joined our family are our little dogs, Mr. Wilson and Wilma.

Mr. Wilson the pug
Mr. Wilson
© 2013 Christy King
Boston Terrier snuggled in box at Christmas
© 2013 Christy King

We adopted them from a shelter when they were 8 and 9 years old. We were only looking for one dog, but these guys had lived together for years, so we ended up bringing them both home.

Due to their advanced ages and the fact that their previous owner hadn’t taken them to the vet, they needed a lot of medical and dental care.

Not only was that expensive, but it required multiple trips to the vet, including the “animal eye doctor” across town.

Wilma needs eye drops twice a day and an antihistamine. Add to all this the requirements of all dogs such as grooming and walking. These guys are definitely not low maintenance.

You’d have to wonder how we could possibly consider adopting these dogs a good idea when our goal is minimalist living, but every single day they make us smile and laugh dozens of times.

The time and money we spend on these dogs are investments in our contentment.

“When we stop spending our lives chasing the world’s definition of happiness, we begin to recognize the decision to experience happiness has been right in front of us all along.”

– Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Simplifying your life doesn’t mean getting rid of all your possessions or cutting out all the complicated things in your life.

It’s about cultivating your contentment by spending your time, money and energy on the things you treasure.

P.S. Raymund Tamayo has kindly shared his list analysis.