When did being content become a bad thing? Although it is defined as a state of peaceful happiness or satisfaction, so often in the corporate world it is implied as giving up such as “Robert lost his drive, he is content with where he is.” It can also be a word to justify not providing someone a reward such as a raise or plum assignment. “She is content with what she is making, so let’s give the raise to this other guy.” It is no wonder that with all of the negativity associated with contentment that we fail to find the value in how it can bring balance, and yes happiness, to our work and personal lives.
When you fail to allow yourself to be content, life becomes akin to a triathlon that not only keeps moving the finish line, but also adds additional competitions. The insatiable thirst for a more impressive title with greater responsibility and a continually expanding basket of ever more alluring possessions (e.g. cars, houses, gadgets, etc) can become an unconscious way of life. Your life becomes more difficult when you fail to maintain a healthy balance. It will eventually lead to mental and physical exhaustion for yourself, and have a huge impact on those in your circle of influence. In my book, The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce, I note an interesting 2014 released study by the Institute of for Cognitive and Brain Sciences which found how your stress actually makes those around you stressed. Think of it in the same terms as second hand smoke. Your lack of being content has a second hand impact on those around you. If you fail to find contentment at work, your direct reports and colleagues have a higher chance of not finding it either. If you are not content at home, your loved ones will similarly be indisposed to not achieving a state of happiness and satisfaction.
Ask yourself these three questions: Am I content with my life and everything I have now? If not, what is stopping me from being happy and satisfied? What state of being (be it a job, possession or relationship) will make me content and how will I know when I am there? My guess is that if you read this far, you answered no to the first question and are potentially scratching your head to come up with a clear answer to the next two questions.
Okay here are some no-brainer rhetorical questions. Do you want to be happy? Would you like to feel satisfied without feeling like you are giving up? Would you like to enable others around you to be happy and satisfied? If so, start with the three practices noted below. They may seem easy, but trust me they do not come easily.
- Redefine Contentment – You will never embrace contentment for yourself or those around you unless you redefine what being content is and is not. Write down all of the negative associations you have with being content and then realize how much of that list was influenced by your own misguided perceptions or those by others around you. Now crumple it up and throw it away. So often in the workplace, being content is tied to giving up or losing your drive or a reason for not being treated equally. It is not and should not have any of those definitions. Is it possible to be satisfied with your job and still want to be great at what you do? Of course it is. Does it mean you stop progressing? No, it does not. Does it mean you stop learning? Absolutely not! Paradoxically, when we slow down and experience our work or our life as it is, it opens up the possibility of a new perspective. Could it mean you consciously found a happy spot as an individual contributor or a middle manager and fully recognize your happiness would diminish if you took on a more senior role? Yes, most definitely. Write down your new meaning of contentment and place it somewhere visible. Feel free to consciously remind yourself of your definition and be open to redefining it as life progresses. Perhaps, for you today, it is just a state of acknowledging and appreciating what you have at this point in time. This notion of time brings us to the next practice.
- Consciously Allocate Times to be Content – It might seem odd to actually allocate time to be content. Like any type of behavior or mindset it needs practice. Notice when you are feeling content and let yourself experience and appreciate it. Take the time to sit with it. Allocating this time should be taken two ways. First, schedule a daily time in which you will focus on the positives in your life. A practice in my home we do at bedtime is to list 3 things we are grateful for that day. Even what may be a horrible day, we are always able to find three things even if one of them was that “we are thankful that X was not worse than it was.” Gratefulness and contentment are linked; gratefulness allows you to experience a certain kind of contentment. A practice of saying 3 things you are grateful for before a meal is also helpful. However you schedule it, attach it to something you do every day until it becomes a ritual. One of our clients asks for one thing they are grateful for in work before a meeting starts to bring the practice into work.
The second way to allocate time to be content, is to actually schedule a time frame you will be content with your situation or possession or relationship. For example, at home we decided we were going to be content with our house for the next 3 years. This meant no searching for other houses or planning big remodeling jobs. For the next 3 years, we will enjoy what we have. Feel free to take baby steps. Tell yourself you will be content with your job for one week. During that week focus on aspects of the job you find enriching or enjoyable. Don’t visit the online job ads nor allow yourself to complain about your job in or out of work nor fixate on any negative aspects. Remember that being content does not mean giving up or stop trying to be your best; it simply means you appreciate what you have in that point in time. If gratefulness is one side of contentment, acceptance is the other. By consciously setting aside blocks of time in which will appreciate such things as the state of your relationship or your outdated e-gadget or your current commute, you will free up energies to pursue more positive aspects of your life. In order to take this on, you will need to engage the next practice.
- Find and Verbalize Positive Value to Your Situation – You do not need to be Pollyanna about your life to be content. Yes, there may be situations at work or in your personal life that may be far from optimal. Possibly you may not be treated equally or given the same opportunities as others. You may have personal hardships that seem almost too hard to bear. You do not need to forget that reality or stop trying to improve those situations. On the contrary, as stated previously, by finding value in the positive aspects of your life you will have more energy to put towards changing the less desirable ones. You need to move those positive attributes from the subconscious to the conscious, by writing them down or saying them out loud. For example, perhaps you are in a high results-oriented position like a sales or broker position. It is more likely you tend to verbalize all of the negative aspects with your colleagues or friends such as the lost sale, heavy workload or the ten clients that hung up on you. As human beings, we often gravitate towards the negative to find common space in misery. For this very same reason, we give far more weight to the one online negative review than we do for the thirteen positive ones. All of that negative verbalization will grind you and those around you down. Do you like your teammates? Did one thing good happen today? Was your commute into the office a good one? Make it a practice that you verbalize at least one positive value to your situation when in conversation with your colleagues, manager, family and friends. You may find it interesting that over time they may be following your lead without even be conscious about it. One positive share usually leads to another.
These 3 simple, but powerful practices will help bring contentment out of the dark shadows and become a path to restore a healthy and satisfying balance in your own life. It will also allow you to cultivate a culture in work and at home that fosters the same for those around you.