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How to Find Contentment (Rather than Happiness)

shutterstock_146627852Sure, we all want to feel happy.  But seeking contentment is a better goal.  Happiness is a mood state, inevitably fleeting, while contentment is more sustainable.  Here are some thoughts on how to find it.

I define contentment as being able to be in the moment BECAUSE you have a sense of the larger picture–you’re able to appreciate momentary pleasure and shrug off stress and annoyances by virtue of knowing that you are where you want to be on a grander scale (or you can envision yourself getting to where you want to be.)

I know, it sounds deceptively simple.  Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do.  Like when people tell you “Be in the moment” or “Be spontaneous”–you become all the more self-conscious.

But they also get easier with practice.  Mindfulness and appreciation can be learned skills.  They come more naturally to some than others, but if you stick with it, you will improve.

1)  When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present.

I say “gently” because frustration is an enemy of being in the moment.  And contentment involves some degree of present-focus.  So if you’re on, say, a family outing and you’re thinking about all the laundry you have to do, remind yourself to be where you are.  You’ll probably have to remind yourself of this multiple times, and that’s okay.  It’s all practice.

2)  Realize that  happiness–like frustration or irritation or anger–is fleeting.

The reason this is actually a positive realization is that we have a tendency to forget that all emotions pass, given time.  So when we’re in a negative space, we need to pause, breathe deeply, and let it go by.  When we’re happy, we need to embrace it because it’s finite.

3)  Contentment lasts.

That’s because there’s a cognitive component to contentment.  Taking stock of where you are and deciding what you love, what you can change, and what you need to accept is key to contentment.

If you make lists and re-read them, it will help ground you overall.  That will make numbers 1 and 2 on this list easier to practice.  You’ll have something to draw on in that larger scheme.

Self-compassion and the recognition that life is a process, not an outcome, will also be helpful.  Contentment is about cultivating a mindset that promotes happiness.  Then you don’t need to chase it, or to run away from negative emotions, either.

Woman drinking coffee image available from Shutterstock.

How to Find Contentment (Rather than Happiness)

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). How to Find Contentment (Rather than Happiness). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2014
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