How To Find Contentment: Happiness That Lasts

how to find contentment


It’s life’s ultimate question, the desire everyone has, and yet it poses no singular solution: How can I become content? How can we learn to find our own version of happiness in this confusing and often unhappy world?

finding contentmentIt’s tempting to go looking for a simple solution to quickly curb unhappy emotions. However, through my own journey with pursuing happiness, I’ve found that there is much more to my joy than my external situation. I’ve had to learn to find contentment within myself by adjusting my habits and mindset.

Finding contentment is about much more than chasing a fleeting feeling. Pursuing deep, genuine contentment means discovering a version of joy that endures all the circumstances life throws your way.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Over the last 10 years, I have learned to foster deep-rooted contentment instead of chasing the temporary high of a happy moment. This didn’t happen overnight. It has taken practice, intentional habit building, and self-reflection to get here.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Trading Fleeting Happiness For Deep Contentment

Trading Fleeting Happiness For Deep Contentment

I think there are so many ways our world gets it wrong when it comes to what it means to be content. We live in a deeply unhappy society that is obsessed with instant gratification. And to that end, there are countless companies trying to sell “solutions.”

Are you hungry? Try our new bacon cheese burger. Feeling lonely? Try our dating app without putting in any real effort. Need to escape? Try our cruise line to pamper you endlessly … for a fee. Feeling lethargic? Here’s an energy drink that will perk you up.

trading happiness for contentmentNot only are we tempted with solutions to the positive feelings we lack in any given moment, but as we’ve gotten smarter, so has technology. Our phones literally monitor our activity to track what satisfies us.

All we have to do is click or scroll, nod or shake our heads, and the system takes notes. Our world feeds us these forms of fleeting satisfaction and trains us to run on these quick hits of dopamine, but these highs are transient.

What I’ve learned to pursue are not the physical hits that temporarily satisfy my cravings for social acceptance, romance, freedom, significance, status, belonging, or any other desire.

What I’m after these days is a much deeper, internal, long-lasting form of contentment that I can access regardless of my tangible situation.

I had the privilege of chatting with a fellow creator, Helena Woods, about her own journey towards contentment. During our chat, she shared a lot of valuable insight on what kind of work it takes to become content in your own life.

helena woods

“I use the stoic philosophy that nothing is good or bad in life, it just is. Seeing life through the lens of neutrality, seeing everything as a challenge or a lesson, and every person as a teacher, has really helped me.”

– Helena Woods, Slow Living Blogger

Being Content Verses Being Happy

Being Content Verses Being Happy

Long-term contentment has a different root than fleeting happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to an external situation while contentment is an internal stance that stems from building a life around what truly matters.

contentment is internalHappiness comes and goes as occurrences happen to you. You become happy because X, Y, or Z occurs or is given to you, and when you lose that thing, you are inevitably more unhappy in its absence.

Contentment, inversely, is internally rooted. Contentment is not dependent on your external situation; it sustains itself inside of you regardless of what you have or do not have. Thus, your source of true contentment cannot be lost as your life inevitably changes.

I have found contentment to be a kind of invincibility; it is my secret superpower. When you aren’t dependent on external things as your source of joy, you are able to hold onto that joy within you when the external things fade away.

Can A Person Choose To Be Happy?

Can A Person Choose To Be Happy

People have argued for centuries about whether or not happiness is something you choose to adopt or something that happens to you. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not happiness is a choice. It just doesn’t sit right with me to say we have no control over our ability to have joy.

can a person choose to be happyThere is too much evidence that suggests otherwise. Sure, you ultimately don’t control your circumstances. There are many hardships we experience that are simply out of our hands. Our parent gets cancer, we lose our job, our loved one passes away, our spouse is unfaithful.

However, there are just too many direct examples of people with deeply unfortunate situations who have found their own joy and, inversely, deeply unhappy people with seemingly picturesque lives. To me, this alone makes it safe to say that happiness is, at least in part, one’s own choice.

I’m not going to sit here and spew a bunch of woo-woo mystical advice or Hallmark card phrases about how happiness and positivity is an easy choice. I’ll cut to the chase, being happy is a challenge and life is very hard. I think recognizing this as true is a huge part of what it means to choose joy.

For the last decade, I have worked to build intentional habits that have helped me maintain deep contentment despite hardships in my life. But this doesn’t mean I don’t feel any negative emotions.

When my loved ones have passed, I felt deep, deep sadness. When the company I used to work for closed its doors suddenly, I worried. When money was tight, I dreaded the end of the month.

Yet, I wasn’t entirely unhappy either. I had put in the work to maintain a version of deeper joy within me that sustained itself through these obstacles. Contentment is not mutually exclusive from sorrow, fear, loneliness, anger, and other undesirable emotions. In fact, I’d argue the opposite.

Putting in the work it takes to remain content while you are simultaneously experiencing difficult and heavy emotions is, I think, the key to mastering joy. It’s the real trick to having lasting contentment instead of fleeting satisfaction. Yet, that’s much easier said than done.

a simple guide to what makes you happy

Why Am I Not Happy?

Why Am I Not Happy

The fact that you clicked on this blog post means you are likely seeking some kind of deeper contentment and are looking for some help getting there. I don’t claim to be a therapist or psychologist, but I do believe I’ve put in the work over the years to learn the practice of choosing contentment.

My best advice to finding long-lasting contentment is to start by addressing the root of your discontentment. What is holding you back?

The root of your unhappinessIf you want to eat healthier, you start by cutting out junk food. If you want to be more present, you start by taking away things that distract you from the moment, like your phone. If you want to become content, you have to put in the work to remove the root of your discontentment.

The root of your unhappiness is inevitably dependent on what you have faced and experienced. Figuring out where your unhappiness is stemming from and learning to become content with your own life takes time. It’s not something you learn to fully master.

It’s much easier to settle into complacency with being unhappy than it is to put in the work it takes to truly become content. Facing your own vices can be vulnerable and painful, but to me, it has been more than worth it. The payoff is huge.

helena woods

“Imagine your brain like an iceberg. The top part of the iceberg is only five percent. The other 95 percent is beneath water. That is your subconscious, what we’re working on. Undoing the undesirable programming in our subconscious mind.”

– Helena Woods, Slow Living Blogger

In my life, finding contentment looked like accepting what I perceived as my failures as part of my journey, letting go of unmet goals, and learning to have grace with myself regardless of the tangible results I could track.
I’m a goal-oriented and efficiency-minded guy, but as I learned to not depend on external results for my happiness, I was able to find more real joy. This doesn’t mean I no longer set goals, work to improve myself, or dream big.

For me, this just means I have underlying contentment despite results. I work to position my joy to not be dependent on an outcome. That is easier said than done sometimes, but working to make space between them has been helpful.

How Do I Become Content In My Own Life?

How Do I Become Content In My Own Life

What is holding you back from finding your own version of contentment that endures? Finding your own version of contentment certainly depends on who you are, what you struggle with, and what you need. But, for all of us, it starts with a long look in the mirror.

How To Feel Content With What You Have

How To Feel Content With What You Have

A common culprit for feeling discontent is feeling like you aren’t enough. Maybe you feel like you don’t have enough, looking next to you at the huge house, high paying job, or seemingly perfect family that your neighbors have.

You might feel like you aren’t enough in your talents, abilities, or personality. Maybe you wish for the skillsets of your friends, coworkers, or peers.

Comparison is such an easy way to kill contentment. It’s easy to feel like the grass is always greener, but have you even wondered if that grass is actually synthetic turf? Your neighbor’s grass may appear greener, but that doesn’t mean it is, in actuality.

Some of the richest people are the most unhappy people in the world. There is no shortage of extremely successful people who wish their own lives turned out differently. The best way to stop thinking about other people’s grass is to focus on watering your own.

level 10 life

Spend less time on social media, looking at the lives your friends have chosen to present. When your brain starts to wonder about how much money others are making, shift your focus to ways you can improve your own financial security. If you’re feeling sad about not having a specific talent, stop focusing on your peers and go try something you are good at and love.

How To Feel Content When You’re Alone

How To Feel Content When Youre Alone

As an introvert myself, I tend to thrive on alone time. However, I have a lot of friends who have struggled to learn how to be content when they aren’t getting positive stimulation from other people. Learning to be content alone is a challenge for many.

finding contentment when aloneI think the secret to feeling content alone is learning to accept who you are when you’re by yourself. In order to do that, you have to get to know yourself. Getting to know yourself can be treated the same as getting to know any friend.

When you’re getting to know someone new, you do activities you enjoy. You eat at places you both love. You ask each other questions that help you know more about the way the person thinks, feels, and the ins and outs of their life experiences.

Try treating yourself the same way. Plan some time each week to take yourself out and hang out with yourself one on one. Intentionally spend time on activities that refuel you, your passions, and hobbies that make you feel most like you.

Take the time to get to know yourself and learn to be your own companion. Ask yourself the same kind of get-to-know-you questions you might ask a potential romantic partner: What was your childhood like? What makes you happy? What does your ideal future look like? Write your answers down for you to read back to yourself.

places to go to clear your head

Learning To Be Content With Your Job

Learning To Be Content With Your Job

You are likely to spend the majority of your day working. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it’s easy to become deeply discontented. Being unhappy at work is one of the most common reasons Americans cite for being unhappy in their lives overall.

I’ve definitely been there. When I was furloughed from my job in human resources over a decade ago, it ended up being a huge blessing in disguise. At first, I was nervous for my financial situation.

how to build a better lifeHowever, in the end, being let go gave me a lot of clarity around how burnt out I was and how much I needed a change. I wasn’t happy at work, and I deserved to find a way to create that happiness for myself.

Since work is likely what you spend most of your day doing, you don’t want to get yourself stuck in something you hate. Money, status, and “doing what you’re supposed to be doing” just aren’t worth spending most of your day in a miserable state.

However, it’s unrealistic to say you will be happy in your job all the time. If temporary happiness isn’t what you’re chasing but long-term joy is, I think there has to be an understanding that the main source of that joy may not be your work.

We’re fed a narrative when we’re younger that our work is the most important thing about us. Over the years, I’ve learned that letting go of my job as my identifier was one of the best things, I could do to find my own contentment.

After being furloughed, I took time to analyze what I really hoped to gain from my work. From this self-analysis, I found myself starting The Tiny Life.

To Find A Job You Enjoy, Ask Yourself

  • What are my non-negotiables at work?
  • Is my passion separate form my work?
  • What work environment do I thrive in?
  • What kinds of stressors do I handle well?
  • What stressors debilitate me?
  • What do I hope to get out of my work?
  • How does my work help others?
  • Do I work better alone or on a team?
  • What kind of work lights me up?
  • What type of work feels difficult?
  • What type of work feels natural?
find work that makes you happy

I feel like it’s easy to get stuck in a job that makes you feel miserable, but you have autonomy over your own life. If you’re miserable, make a move in a new direction. I truly believe we have more freedom and control over the reality of our lives than we often believe we do.

Of course, I also understand that not everyone is given the privilege of being able to change jobs at the ready. If you’re stuck in your job for the time being, consider ways you can alter your current work experience to make it more enjoyable in the present.

Overall, a great recipe for finding contentment that lasts in your work life is to ask yourself if what you do reflects your gifts and passions, helps others, and helps the world. I love this Venn diagram for finding your purpose.

finding your passionIf you work from home, try spending a day in a new location like a fun coffee shop. If you work in an office, add some photos of loved ones to your desktop to inspire you. Integrate a few breaks into your day to take a walk, listen to your favorite song, or read a chapter of a book you love. Find little ways to reduce the monotonous feelings working often brings us.

Another way to feel more content at work is to consider the purpose behind what it is you do. Your job might not fill you up every day, but are there ways your work helps others that can bring satisfaction?

When I have hit my lowest lows in life, I have often found that helping others curbs those darker feelings. My favorite aspect of my work at The Tiny Life is the ways my work helps others. Knowing that even one person was impacted for the better by what I do truly keeps me going each day.

Finding Contentment In All Circumstances

Finding Contentment In All Circumstances

Ultimately, we are not in control of the outcomes of our lives. Bad things will always come and get in the way of our pursuit of happiness. How do we learn to protect our joy and contentment even when trials come our way?

helena woods

“For me contentment looks like immense trust and peace in life. No matter what terrible curveball comes my way, I believe I’ll be able to ride it out with ease. I developed this trust by following my inner voice above all.”

– Helena Woods, Slow Living Blogger

Everyone copes in a different way, but over the years I have developed a favorite coping mechanism for learning to deal with hardship while also keeping a tight hold on my joy. For me, it’s all about perspective.

Oftentimes, I think friends and family take the wrong approach for helping those who are struggling with grief, hardship, and sorrow. While they mean well, telling friends to stay positive and feel less of the bad feelings isn’t usually the right approach.

finding contentmentSaying things like “just stay positive” or “try not to be sad” isn’t a healthy approach for holding on to happiness during the hard times. Psychologists say that feeling your feelings, even the darker ones, is vital for being able to feel joy to the fullest extent.

However, you don’t want to get stuck in the negatives. If you allow yourself to get buried in the darker, more negative emotions, it’s easy to lose sight of your joy altogether.

In my own life, I’ve learned to cope with the inevitable ups and downs by reminding myself that I am a tiny piece of a very large puzzle. My trials and tribulations may be important to me, but I am just one of billions of people in the world, each with their own experiences.

When I think of it this way, it’s easier to stay content and realize that, while my problems matter, there is so much more out there that is much, much bigger than me.

helena woods

“Any time I am going through a hard time, I zoom out and see life in the big picture. I imagine myself floating in space, and watch the hard experiences I’m going through from above the earth. It helps me remember this too shall pass.”

– Helena Woods, Slow Living Blogger

Expert Tips For Feeling Content

Expert Tips For Feeling Content

There is no one recipe to get closer to deep contentment and inner peace — it’s going to be different for every single person and their individual life. However, I am a huge proponent of action items. I love direct solutions and discovering tangible strategies that can work for anyone.

Practice Gratitude

Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude and thankfulness is simple, but can be so impactful in helping us to become more content. It may seem cheesy at first, but if you actually take the time to address the reasons you are grateful each day, it can help you keep your focus on that which uplifts you, not what brings you down.

Every day, find a way to practice gratitude. Write 10 things you’re thankful for in your journal. Say your blessings out loud. Count things you cherish. Whatever method works for you, contentment will come much more easily is you prioritize gratefulness.

helena woods

“The more we develop those positive habits like walking, breathing, meditating, gratefulness — the more ingrained within us they begin and the easier they are to rely on when we’re really struggling.”

– Helena Woods, Slow Living Blogger

Identify What You Value, Chase That

Identify What You Value

I often say my own journey toward joy looked like identifying what I valued most and doing more of that, while also identifying what I valued least and doing less of that. It’s that simple.

For me, those values are my important relationships, flexibility, freedom, independence, free time, creativity, and self-improvement.

In my own life, these have continuously shown up as core themes embedded in the kinds of choices I make, the things I love, and the type of work I pursue. What do you value that you’re unwilling to sacrifice? If you chase those things, you will always feel deep and rich contentment.

setting intentions

Practice Being Present In The Moment

Practice Being Present In The Moment

Being present within each individual moment is huge when it comes to pursuing contentment. Worry and rumination on the past are top culprits that keep us from our own joy.

Instead of truly focusing our minds on what our friend is saying to us at dinner, we’re drifting off into tomorrow’s to-do list. Instead of noticing the gorgeous sky and lovely greenery on our walk, we’re going over our last conversation with a coworker and analyzing how they responded to our words.

Presence is a hard thing to master, oftentimes because the ways we aren’t present are not so much conscious decisions but unconscious habits. However, working to break this habit can reduce our worry and anxiety and help us to become happier.

helena woods

“The minute you are able to get out of the mind and put yourself in your body, in the sensory experience of your physical environment, you immediately leave your spiraled thoughts.”

– Helena Woods, Slow Living Blogger

Practice paying attention to your senses to be present in the moment. When you’re at dinner with a friend, notice the color of their shirt or the expression on their face.

When you’re in the shower in the morning, pay attention to the way the water feels. Connecting to our senses can help snap us back to the present moment.

guide to living in the moment

Chase Growth Instead Of Happiness

Chase Growth Instead Of Happiness

I saved the best for last with these tips. The value of a growth mindset is one of my favorite topics. I am such a firm believer that this simple mental switch alone can help you find rich joy in your own life.

meditate on your intentionsLike I said at the beginning of this post, chasing happiness means you are chasing a fleeting feeling. Happiness fades, because it is contingent on the external.

Pursuing growth is much richer. When you work toward things that grow you at your core instead of things that satisfy you in a temporary sense, you are fixing your gaze on the long game. Drive, purpose, and a sense of mattering are all attributes of human desire that make us feel more joyful. Adopting a growth mindset naturally brings us all of these.

Overall, contentment looks different in every circumstance and isn’t so easily quantifiable. However, when we are truly willing to take a look inside ourselves and put in the work to stop chasing what temporarily satisfies, that’s when we unlock real, unwavering joy.

Your Turn!

  • What are the main culprits in your life keeping you from joy?
  • What habits can you try to help you find contentment in your own life?

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