During the summers between my semesters of college, I found myself back at my parents home in Massachusetts, working a job I didn’t love and being far from my friends. I was making money, building relationships with my family that I love, and getting to spend lots of uninterrupted time with myself — but every morning, I would pull out my phone and scroll through the Instagram stories and posts of my friends traveling abroad, and the jealousy got too real.
Why does she get to go to Spain for six weeks and drink espresso in the plaza? Why do they get to backpack through Scandinavia and hike through these scenic panoramas? It’s unfair that they get to have adventures, and I’m stuck here bursting with FOMO.
It was when the thought, “If I were traveling in Europe right now, then I’d be happy” popped up in my mind that I had to take a serious pause — woah, when and how did I get unhappy? I took a look back through my behavior over the last few weeks, and I found that it was all the little things: I was just scrolling through her entire profile, I was just cutting family time short, I was just bingeing more Netflix. It’s when I wasn’t paying attention that I found how negative, jealous, and plain discontent I became. Yikes, not a good look.
Being content — finding peace and confidence in your life as-is — isn’t an automatic state of being, although it’s the healthiest mental state to be in. Discontent seems to be our nation’s default right now, and even though it’s so tempting to fall into that trap of one-upping your coworkers with just how damn stressed you are (you don’t even know, Becky, I don’t even have time for self-care), I think we both know how damaging living in that negativity can be.
Being content — finding peace and confidence in your life as-is — isn’t an automatic state of being, although it’s the healthiest mental state to be in.
Contentment is a state of mind that requires effort, of actively fighting against our world that thrives in jealousy and competition. Here are some thought patterns you might be giving in to, and how to combat that restlessness by cultivating contentment:
Pattern of Discontentment: Unintentional Negative Talk
It’s ridiculously easy to see the negative in any situation, even if there’s not much to say. If you’ve worked anywhere ever, you know this is true — a customer at your store was rude to you, your boss said something inconsiderate, your friend keeps complaining and you can’t help but roll your eyes because they don’t even know the half of it.
I get it. Venting is one thing, but constantly bringing the negative to the forefront or your mind — and the minds of the others — is another. It’ll cause you to start seeing everything through this lens of angst, which isn’t true to reality.
The main problem with this? You probably don’t even know you’re doing it. It’s so common to talk this way that I can go days without saying one nice word about myself or anything else, and it won’t register to me as “off” or “wrong.”
Try This Instead: Intentional Positive Talk
Where you see only negativity, bring in some positive talk. Don’t misunderstand me — pretending that unfortunate life situations and pain don’t exist is unrealistic and unhealthy, that’s not what we’re going for. Introducing positive talk in negative situations helps give you a better sense of reality: if your coworkers only talk about how your supervisor is out of touch or annoying, bring balance back by mentioning something you like about your supervisor, or don’t engage in the conversation at all.
Warning: Do not be the person who tries to highlight the silver lining because pain makes you uncomfy. Do be the person who stops unnecessary complaining by remembering (if only to yourself) that no situation is black-and-white bad.
Pattern of Discontentment: Social Media Bingeing
This is hardly news, but spending too much time and attention on social media has a negative impact on your mental health. The first thing I do in the morning scroll through my friends’ nights on Instagram and see how much they’re enjoying their lives. Then I go to Facebook and see the memories I was tagged in from years ago when I was thinner/happier/prettier/dating that guy/etc.
After all that, then I think about what I have to do today, and my own life is instantly veiled by the Instagram-worthy lives of others and my own thoughts about how this time in my life isn’t as “good” or “happy” as other times.
Bummer. And it’s only 6:07 a.m.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a hilarious tweet or a pretty ‘gram, but when we don’t actively put these bytes of information through our reality filters, they quickly become our reality filters. We completely forget what real life — what we’re currently, really living — are supposed to look like, and instead, nothing we experience will measure up.
Try This Instead: Gratitude
Inhale for me. Great. Now exhale. Awesome. You are alive, therefore you have something to be grateful for. For those of you who haven’t genuinely tried it, this point will sound cliche and cheesy — but trust me on this one! When I was in college, one of the organizations I worked with regularly had us set aside time to tell each other what we were grateful for about one another. After just a few comments, the stress and negativity got overshadowed — I’m talking knots in my stomach going away, unclenching my jaw, and smiles all around.
Contentment is looking at what you have and feeling like your needs are met. Quite likely, your emotional and physical needs are almost always met, it’s just about re-adjusting your perspective so you see that clearly. Actively practicing gratitude is a great way to remind yourself that you can pursue more without feeling like your life is currently deficient. Try listing things right when you wake up and when you go to bed that made your day, or one of these others tips.
Contentment is looking at what you have and feeling like your needs are met.
Pattern of Discontentment: Making Choices Out of Fear or Comparison
I know — exsqouz?? You think I let anything other than my own dreams and thoughts define me?? Yes. Yes, I do.
Our lives are necessarily built around community, but that means it’s so so easy to judge the value of our lives through comparison (that sneaky social media again). Not only might you stack up your life next to someone else’s, but you might start taking your cues on how to live from them, too. That’s where the real danger is — when you start staying true to anyone other than yourself.
This is where I find myself a good bit — I’m so nervous about disappointing someone else that I’ll adjust my behavior and expectations to meet theirs. It’s not uncommon for me to “come to” weeks or months later wrapped up in relationships, commitments, and thought patterns that aren’t me at all but are created out of fear of missing out or disappointing others.
This isn’t easy to spot or to stop. But it’s worth the check-in to see if the major commitments that make up your life are things that you love and are truly dedicated to — not things that feel like obligations or are just to make others happy.
Try This Instead: Make Choices Out of Confidence
Sure, this sounds obvious, but do what you want to. Will there be things in life that you have to do, whether you like them or not? Yes. Obviously. Don’t shirk responsibilities. But also don’t get yourself into situations where you’re bound to be negative, restless, and discontent just because you think it will make someone else happy.
This is tricky when you’re not sure what it is that makes you content (read: me). Slowing down your decision-making process and taking yourself off autopilot are a good place to start. Even for small things, like choosing whether you have the energy to go to happy hour or if you really can handle that extra work project, making the choice that best serves you will best serve everyone. When you feel as though the people around you are responsible for your choices and position, resentment and discontentment are bound to bubble up. The more you learn what it is you like to do, the more you can fill your life with those things, and you won’t have to recalibrate your contentment quite as often.