Creative Counselling: The Art of Contentment
by Marie Bruce
How content do you feel with your life, and if you’re not, do you know how to achieve more contentment? We live in an age of constant comparison, where a quick flick through Instagram can leave you feeling worthless. In no other era of history has this level of comparison played such a huge part in our mental health and wellbeing, because never before has the world been so accessible.
If you are experiencing financial difficulty, it can be hard to see images of affluence and luxury on social media. Loving photos of coupled-up friends on Facebook can have a negative effect if you are single and lonely. Although we know that social media only presents a highlight reel of real life, that doesn’t lessen the negative impact, and constant comparison can lead to feelings of discontent.
So just what is contentment, and how do we get more of it? Contentment is a state of deep happiness and a feeling of security. When you are content, you expect that things will turn out well for you. Fear and anxiety lessen as contentment increases, because you have faith that your life is working out just fine. True contentment means that you are basically happy in all areas of your life – work, relationships, friendships, home-life and so on. Yet it can feel like an impossible task to keep all these balls in the air.
The trick is to focus on one area at a time. Look at your life and work out what area needs the most attention. What aspect of life is giving you the most stress and unhappiness? That is the area you need to work on first of all. There is little point taking on a top promotion at work if your relationship is suffering for it, because you will then be in conflict with your partner, leading to discontent in your relationship. Likewise, there is no point in maxing out a credit card for a nice holiday when the stress of debt will undo all that relaxation as soon as you get home.
Contentment means keeping a steady balance across the landscape of your life, rather than giving too much in one direction. Once you have achieved balance, when one area suddenly presents greater challenges, the rest of your life will act as a support system to help you deal with that challenge. Contented people are rarely ruffled too much by life events, because they have a strong base from which to navigate each challenge.
They say that the secret to happiness is having something to do, something to love and something to look forward to. This is contentment boiled down to a very simple formula that anyone can follow. Something to do is usually your career so if you are unhappy in your work, this needs to be addressed. You don’t have to change jobs overnight, you just need to feel like you are doing something to move your career forward, be that a side hustle, polishing up your cv and applying for other jobs or looking into retraining. Once you accept that your current position is only temporary because you are working towards something else, you won’t feel so trapped or bothered by a bad boss, because you’re really just passing through, and soon enough that job will be an aspect of your past anyway, so it’s not worth getting upset about.
Something to love can mean anything from family, friends or a spouse to a pet or a hobby. Having something that you are passionate about is vital, because it gives you someone or something else to focus on. We need a certain amount of human interaction to be content, but you can still be single and get this interaction from friends, colleagues and family members. Our pets offer a tremendous source of unconditional love that is difficult to replicate in human to human relationships, so having a dog to walk or a cat to cuddle can be a great step towards contentment.
Something to look forward to can be as simple as an early night in clean sheets, a trip to the cinema or something more extravagant like a holiday on a cruise ship. Don’t discount the smaller things in life: buying a new book each month on pay day to build up a personal library, or a regular trip to the salon, can all act as your something to look forward to, and can increase your feelings of contentment. The key is to be mindful of these small blessings.
Creating contentment is a day to day lifestyle that requires you to be proactive. By this I mean that you must schedule in pockets of contentment, using the above example as a template. Say you have a distressing trip to the dentist to endure. You can lessen the negative impact of this by scheduling in contentment around it, as a little reward. After your appointment, you could call your partner or your mum, or take the dog for a walk (something to love), go to the gym, a dance class or a museum (something to do) and plan on having a lovely hot bath, then watching your favourite film when you get home (something to look forward to).
Doing this regularly, day by day and week by week, will lead you easily into a more contented life style and you will begin to achieve balance across the landscape of your life. The bigger the challenge you face, the more proactive you need to be in creating contentment for yourself, which in turn will enhance the contentment of those around you too. Start right now by planning something fun to do and remember that contentment is an art-form, but you are the artist.
Until next time,
Marie Bruce x
Find out more:
Marie Bruce Dip. T.C. MBACP is a qualified psychotherapist, Cruse Bereavement Counsellor and best-selling self-help author. She specialises in grief and loss counselling, PTSD and military counselling, and life coaching.
In this monthly column, Marie offers simple tools used by therapists to help clients and readers improve their mental well-being.
Marie’s books are available on Amazon UK.