Contentment is resistance

When hustle culture is very much alive and kicking, simply being content is a form of resistance, a profoundly radical act

In our hectic and harried world, the iron cage of capitalism reigns supreme and hustle culture is very much alive and kicking. We’re taught that life is all about eternal grasping; always reaching for more. Simply being content, therefore, is a profoundly radical act.

Being happy with what we’ve got may not sound as if we’re railing against the patriarchy. But finding contentment in less material things can be a powerful form of resistance and revolution. Restless discontent is held up as a necessary part of personal, professional and artistic progress and growth, when in reality all it tends to mean is that you substitute one form of unhappiness for another.

Being content means we have no demands or desires that other people – or, crucially, corporations – can exploit. You cannot be manipulated into buying into a lifestyle you simply don’t need.

But finding true contentment is easier said than done. In the UK, overall happiness has failed to return to pre-pandemic levels, particularly among the younger generation, as the effects of Covid continue to impact our mental health. Coupled with the cost of living crisis, it’s a recipe for disaster. According to the Office for National Statistics, only 23 per cent of Britons reported their life satisfaction as “very high” in the last quarter of 2022, down from an average 30 per cent in 2019. That figure dropped to 19 per cent for people in their twenties; well below the 32 per cent for those aged 60 and over.

So, how can we become happier and more content, when all the circumstances seem to conspire against us? Learning how to be content requires us to look at all aspects of our life and commit to making meaningful change. A few tips and ideas follow.

Focus on the present
We’re all guilty of living in the future: “I’ll be happy when he finally proposes,” or “I’ll feel more fulfilled when I’ve landed that promotion.” There’s always another milestone to tick off, or another major life event waiting around the corner – but guess what? Once we achieve those things, we’ll probably feel the same as we did before.

True contentment comes from a deep sense of accepting who and where we are at any given moment. Instead of focusing on where we were, or where we’d like to be, we need to devote our attention to where we are.

Don’t postpone happiness by waiting for a day that may never come. Look instead for opportunities to enjoy the small pleasures in daily life – a hot cup of coffee, the sound of birdsong, a meaningful chat with a friend – and focus on the positives of today.

Be grateful
Practising gratitude is often touted as the answer to many of life’s problems, but that’s because it’s such a powerful tool. Focusing on what we’re grateful for allows us to harness positive emotions, while reminding us of what’s important.

So, each day, identify at least one person or thing that enriches your life. Write your thoughts in a journal and, when you find yourself feeling unhappy, look back and remind yourself of the good things in your life.

Journaling is often private, but consider sharing what you’re grateful for with friends or loved ones. Sharing happy experiences with others can amplify positive emotions and lead to greater life satisfaction.

Don’t buy things you don’t need
In our gentle revolution against capitalism, one of the best things we can do is refuse to buy unnecessary stuff. Our culture tends to prize material objects, but spending money on things we simply don’t need can lead to feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction.

Next time we feel the urge to buy something, let’s stop for a moment and think whether it’s a “need” or a “want”. If it’s a “want”, think about why we’re not content with what we have already.

Instead of focusing on material possessions, let’s cultivate a sense of enjoyment in simple things that don’t cost money: walking in the woods, reading a good book, taking a hot bath. Often, these free endeavours offer even greater pleasure than expensive pursuits.

Don’t compare yourself to others
Comparison, it’s said, “is the thief of joy.” Comparing ourselves to others is part of the modern affliction, particularly in the age of social media, when it seems everyone else’s life is infinitely better than ours. But is the grass greener on the other side? Usually not.

It might appear another person has everything we don’t. But that doesn’t mean we’d feel content if we found ourselves in their shoes. By the same token, they likely don’t have what /we/ have. Comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time and energy. Let’s not focus on what we lack; let’s try to be grateful for what we have.

Keep your loved ones close
Keeping those we love close to us is a surefire way of being more content. Social connectedness can lead to a longer life, better health and improved wellbeing. Having strong, healthy relationships with those around us improves our physical and mental health, and helps us deal with life’s challenges. Let’s use kind words and actions to build up our emotional bank account. The more we put into the world for others, the more we’ll receive in return.

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are,” wrote Stephen Mitchell in his translation of the /Tao Te Ching/. “When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”


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