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The Power of Contentment: Take a Life Inventory to Find Your Wants and Needs
April 26, 2009
Many of us are caught up with the current economic struggles. Some of us have lost our jobs, some are worried about rising costs, while others are concerned about the future. We are all influenced in some way by our worries about money, our current status and our security.
I am asked often how to stay calm and centered at this time. I always recommend some good conscious breathing and a healthy dose of exercise and good diet as a way to alleviate the stress. Why does that work? Because the act of worrying takes energy. And when things in our lives get stressful, we generate a lot of energy to be able to overcome the problems. If we don’t take action, we find other ways to use that energy. Oftentimes, that means worry. But worrying is not overcoming problems. It’s just brooding and getting stuck in an anxious rut that causes more stress to the body.
So, the best solution is to use that energy for something more constructive. And if you don’t see any quick, creative solutions to the problems, then the best advice is to use that energy for something that brings benefit, like exercise, or maybe even a creative project, or volunteer work.
However, there is a more long-term approach to the worry and concerns about your current life situation. It’s called the practice of contentment.
What is Contentment?
Contentment is the state of being satisfied with what you have, with your status and current situation. It is not resignation, which is more about giving up, being a victim and feeling disempowered. Contentment is a very spiritual approach to life. In fact, most spiritual traditions would say that contentment is the first step to true happiness—even to enlightenment or heaven.
Being contented would mean that you are truly satisfied with your life as it is right now! Of course there is always room to grow and expand who we are and how we live our lives. But we can also be satisfied with how much we have and accept ourselves as we are. This is a powerful way to be in the world. This means that we are not victim to other’s opinions and we are not easily swayed from our viewpoints and beliefs. We actually live our lives in a more authentic way.
We live in a time that is set up to keep us from being content with ourselves and therefore we suffer from insecurity, lack of self-confidence and anxiety. Take a look at the media. The whole point of media and advertising is to convince you that you are not happy, that you don’t have enough, that you need more of what they are selling. When you buy their product, or when you have the lifestyle and body and looks of celebrities and models, then you will be happy.
The current economic system is set up to do the same thing. It is expected of you to try and earn as much money as you can. One house is not enough. Two cars are not enough. A six digit salary is not enough. There is always an anxious need to gain more, even if it means stepping on others to get there. Just take a look at what has caused our current economic crisis.
So, from the moment we are born we are brainwashed to believe that the only way to happiness is to earn as much money as possible, to have perfect abs, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, or the big house in the right neighborhood. If we don’t have these things, then we are not happy. Since most of us don’t have these things, we hold on to a neurotic need to be different than who we are and live life with much stress and anxiety as we helplessly look for the thing that will make us happy. And those of us who do have the money, the perfect abs and all the rest are just as unsettled, because they discover that the things they thought would make them happy really don’t. So they have to look even harder to find the illusive thing they are missing.
So, how do we overcome this deep-seated pattern within us? It takes nothing short of a revolution! I believe the most rebellious, subversive thing we can do at this moment is to consciously choose to be content! By doing so, we free ourselves from the pressures of the media and mainstream culture and we can live once again according to our own personal measure of what it means to be happy and to be a successful, empowered person.
So, how many of you will have the courage to say "I have enough! I am content with my life and who I am"? In the story of the Old Testament, after each day that God created something, he took a look at what he created and was able to say, “This is enough.” This allowed him to stop, be fully content with his achievements, not have anxiety, and take time to rest. What a good lesson for all of us!
So what is the practice of contentment? It is a very practical, methodical approach that requires you really do it all and not just think about it. It requires cutting through the confusion and really seeing you and your life as they really are at this moment. Here we go…
Want vs. Need
The first step is to meditate and contemplate the differences between a want and a need. A want is usually based on fantasy. It’s usually something we don’t have and we think that when we get it, we will be happy. Wanting something usually leads to never feeling satisfied because the mind is a very creative thing, easily persuaded by the latest trends and always dreaming up more and more things to want. This means you rarely get the chance to fully enjoy what you already have.
A need on the other hand is more practical and has to do with the basics—either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. You may want caviar every night, but all you may need is a can of tuna. You may want the “perfect boyfriend”, but what you may need is affection, support and fun. Which seem easier to attain? Don’t get me wrong—it’s okay to want something, to desire something. It’s great to have dreams, but dreams take time to attain, maybe a lifetime, while getting your needs met can happen quickly—if you can identify what they are and if you have the courage to ask!
Inventory Your Life
Take time to look at your finances/possessions.
- How many assets do you have? How much stuff?
- How much do you need per month? This includes your physical, emotional, social, work, intellectual and spiritual needs.
- Once you establish what you need, meditate on it and notice how it would feel to have just enough. No more, no less.
- Evaluate your current situation with what you need. Do you have enough? If the answer is yes, then meditate and feel that. If you have too much, is the clutter and excess causing you stress? Meditate and feel that. If you don’t have enough, how does that feel?
Take action. If you feel you have too much or not enough, what can you do to get to that place where you can say “I have enough- not too much, not too little.” What steps can you take to eliminate the clutter and stress, or what steps can you take to meet your basic needs?
This practice may seem obvious, but it will only have a real impact if you actually do it, not just think about it. This is not an intellectual exercise. The power of the practice lies in the ability to feel deeply what your needs are and to know that you are getting your needs met! This leads to a deep sense of satisfaction, peace, and self-confidence, as well as having a deep impact on those around you. From a place of contentment, we feel a freedom to be more of who we truly are, not burdened by the pressures that society places on us and capable of taping into enormous amounts of power and energy. With this freedom we find that we have more time to devote to things that will bring us true happiness and the realization of our full potential. And this we will discuss in my next article….
Now do the same with other areas of your life: for instance relationships, work, partnership. Follow the same steps and check in to see if your needs are being met and how that makes you feel. The final question in all areas of your life is always: Do you have enough?? If the answer is yes, then you can celebrate fully what you have and who you are. This is not “settling for second best”. This is full acceptance of your achievements in life, of your creativity and talents and an awakening to the richness around you that life has to offer.
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