“I am happy because I’m grateful. I choose to be grateful. That gratitude allows me to be happy.” ~ Will Arnett
Well, we are now safely into December. Thanksgiving and her season of gratitude has passed…but what if we are still searching for thankfulness and contentment? Last post I wrote about the ABCs of gratitude–where we simply enumerate something specific for which we are grateful for every letter of the alphabet. Doing that exercise certainly lifts us and fosters gratitude; I wanted to offer additional suggestions to keep the spirit of thankfulness alive well into the New Year.
Every single one of us wants to be happy and content and the two are different. Happiness is more of a temporary, fleeting feeling of pleasure–we are happy when we eat yummy food or see a good friend. Contentment, however, is more of a long-term state of being that involves a general feeling of satisfaction in life. Happiness can come without gratitude, contentment, however, cannot. Gratitude and contentment are inseparable because a content person is one who has learned to focus on and be grateful for all the good things in life, instead of ruminating on the things they lack. So basically, being grateful helps us to be happy now and content in the future.
If happiness and contentment come from gratitude, what habits can we instill to perpetually be grateful? Here are six ideas to get us rolling:
- Practice gratitude. The simple discipline of beginning a gratitude exercise will undoubtedly shift our focus back to the many good things we already have. Whether it be with the ABCs of gratitude from my last post, or from enumerating 100 things you are grateful for from November 2018, or the simple habit of writing down or even telling a companion or friend about a few things that went well at the end of every day. There are a million ways to practice gratitude; whatever we choose to do will be sure to give us a boost and make us feel happier and more content.
- Take control of your attitude. A person who lacks contentment in their life will often engage in when/then thinking (“when I _______, then I will be happy”). It is an easy trap to fall prey to! Instead of this, let’s take control of our attitude and be happy now–not when something happens to or for us. Happiness does not hinge upon the acquisition of any possession. Our happiness is based solely on our decision to be happy. I firmly believe this may be one of the most important life lessons we can ever learn!
- Stop swiping for fulfillment. It has been ingrained into us that the proper way to diffuse discontentment is purchasing a coveted item. We dislike our wardrobe? Go buy new clothes. Not content with our vehicle? Go get a new one. We have gotten into the habit of satisfying our discontent by simply spending more money now. We must break that habit! Material possessions will never fully satisfy the desires of our heart, which is why discontentment always returns. When we see discontentment surfacing in our lives, let’s refuse to give into the habit of swiping our cards for an unnecessary purchase. Instead, let’s commit to better understanding our discontentment and actually working through it.
- Stop comparing. I have talked about comparison before because it is a common ailment amongst my clients. Let me be straight: Comparing our lives to that of someone else will nearly always lead to discontentment. There will always be people who appear to be better off and seem to be living the perfect life. The truth is that their life is never as perfect as we assume it to be. Not only that, but we most always compare our worst to (our assumption of) their best, and it is inaccurate and unfair. We are unique! We are special! Everyone’s lives are different and that is OKAY! Let’s stop the comparison game and get back to contentment by looking at all that is good in our lives.
- Help others. It sounds cliche, but when we help others we find more contentment. We help others by sharing our talents, time, money, etc. This is as easy as dropping off goodies to a neighbor, helping with childcare, picking up groceries for someone, taking in/out a neighbor’s trash can, or even simply giving a kind compliment. Serving others helps us learn to be more content; it gives us a finer appreciation for what we have, what we are, and what we have to offer. It is a win-win!
- Personal improvement leads to contentment. In point three I said we need to be content with what we have. I want to make a distinction between what we have and what we are. We can and should be content with what we possess because that leads to gratitude; but we should never be content with what we are. We can always put forth effort to become better as individuals, and we should because that lies in our power to control. Complacency does not lead to growth, happiness, or contentment. Continually focusing on personal improvement fosters self-worth, self-love and gratitude. When we focus on learning, growing, discovering, and becoming, we tap into a beautiful side of contentment that is unique for each person.
There are six ideas to hopefully keep us all in the spirit of gratitude as we prepare for 2022. Let’s practice gratitude, change our attitude, stop swiping, stop comparing, serve others, and focus on our personal development through continued growth. Gratitude leads to fulfillment, happiness and contentment. We all need more of that in our lives, so what are we waiting for?
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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