When speaking with a group of friends on the beach earlier this week, I was amazed at how often they expressed dissatisfaction with their perception of life situations, life events, or the quality/standard of their lives. One man was frustrated with his work and, although it was early on Sunday afternoon, he was already dreading going to his job on Monday. Two people were concerned that their daughter’s marriage was breaking up and were worried about her future finances, her depression and how their grandchildren were reacting. My neighbour was obsessing about whether to sell her cottage and move to a larger and more expensive place. Another couple were complaining about their adult children and the lifestyle that was leading to debt. These conversations happened during a perfect summer day with lots of sunshine, warm sand, and the clean waters of Lake Huron lapping on our feet as we lounged in our beach chairs.
I left the group to walk the beach and to think about the level of angst in those exchanges. The worries expressed were not unusual but it saddened me to hear such generalized anxiety and uncertainty from a group of people who were, overall, fortunate in all that life had given to them. Rather than experiencing the beauty of the day the focus was on dissatisfaction, fear, uncertainty and self-doubt. I wondered whether any were acknowledging the good things in their lives. I also wondered what it would take for each of them to feel happiness and contentment. Would a new job, a better house, or successful children create happiness?
Western society has acculturated its citizens to seek happiness through social status, through career success, through possessions , and through others — including children, spouses and associates. We succumb to marketing strategies and tactics that focus on creating needs that may be impossible to fill. The cars we drive, the clothes we wear, where and how we live make us feel like we have made ‘it’. Searching for ‘it’ — happiness and contentment — becomes a quest for possessions, for social status, or for satisfaction through the accomplishments of others.
Taking responsibility for ‘it’ — your own happiness and contentment is something that is universally acknowledged but so often forgotten. It is too easy to get caught in the momentum of the mainstream. For many, despair is easier than happiness. Focusing on what is wrong rather than what is right creates uncertainty and feeds self-doubt.
Rather than return to the group I decided to affirm that my happiness is my responsibility. I resolved to pay greater attention to those things that give me satisfaction and contentment. I remembered some of the techniques learned in the past when I found myself searching for ‘it’ through possessions or through others. Some of my favourites include:
- Gratitude is my fallback in so many situations. Taking just a moment to identify the many blessings in life changes perspective. Whether it is thankfulness at the end of the day or appreciation for a kindness shown, or recognition of those aspects that are ‘right’ and ‘good’ in any situation, the ‘attitude of gratitude’ position is usually enough to create a fresh point of view.
- Recognizing expectations and letting go of externally created expectations where possible is another useful technique that works most of the time. As a member of society it is impossible not to conform to some expectations but most of us seek happiness and contentment from external rather than internal sources.
- Eliminating the ‘shoulds’. When there is worry about what we ‘should’ be or ‘should’ have rather than looking deeply at real needs it is easy to slip into dissatisfaction. By catching the ‘shoulds’ in my thinking and giving myself permission to listen to that small still voice inside, I can pause and consider what I really want.
The search for happiness and contentment is part of the human condition. Why let the angst created by the media, by mainstream culture, and by negative thinking derail the equanimity that comes from the inner experience? Why let our conversations with friends focus on our troubles and who or what created the trouble? Changing our behaviour to talk about the positives in life and stay focused on what is good is a challenge but will bring each of us closer to the ‘it’ that brings happiness and contentment to each day.
Thank you for reading this post. I am interested in hearing what strategies are helpful to you in your search for ‘it’ — your happiness and contentment. Please provide your comments.
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