You can’t buy happiness. A platitude we’ve all heard and nodded along to. We get to experience its truth when that life-perfecting piece of technology or dream vacation inevitably leaves us with an aftertaste of disappointment. Yet, many spiritual traditions acknowledge that joy is our natural state. Before we get bent and beaten up by the world, we come into it knowing a state of bliss. As babies, we cry when we are hurt, hungry, or tired, but outside of basic corporeal need, we are happy. Without reversing our experience in the world and if we can’t save enough money to buy it, how do we access happiness?
The answer: we let go of desiring it. If we release the pursuit of happiness, we create space for contentment. They differ in that the latter can occur without condition. It is not a search or a getting-to, but rather an opening up to the moment. A surrender to the present and a relaxing back into acceptance of the what is happening and where we are without the need for anything to be different. We inevitably, as humans born into a material world, unknowingly sign up for a ride that brings us from high peaks of ecstasy to low valleys of suffering and the mundane landscape in between. The constant throughout the journey, the thread we can follow back home at any point, is our access to contentment.
Contentment holds a hand with its dear companion acceptance. But how do we step into radical acceptance no matter the details of an external world? Quite an appropriate question for the current state of human affairs.
The answer: we allow it to be a practice. The ideal of contentment ascends from a static state to a moving internal experience. A practice of continually pausing, acknowledging what is present, and allowing it to be. As in many practices, patience and consistency are key to their evolution. The good news, your practice can be simple, made up of one deep breath, a conscious acknowledgement, and it can happen at any point in your day.
While you are commuting, at work, in the middle of a heated conversation, trying to convince your kids to pause their tantrum for a moment, brushing your teeth, no matter where you are, you can practice. The technique is so simple it may not seem substantial enough, yet you’ll find the effect is profound.
How to Practice Contentment: Simply bring your awareness to your belly. If it is safe you can close your eyes (like, don’t do this while driving). As you inhale say the word “Now” and make it last as long as a full inhale, lengthening the word to match the breath. As you exhale, say to yourself “it’s like this.” Breathe in, “Now” and breathe out, “it’s like this.” Call on it anytime you need. No time or money required because it’s already yours to receive.
By acknowledging the present moment for what it is you begin to chip away at the belief of what it needs to be, revealing at the core of it the astounding perfection of a moment that otherwise may have been labeled wrong and abandoned as quickly as possible. Let your contentment practice relax into what is here, which like you, is exactly what it needs to be.