zenhabits : breathe

The Cure for What Ails You: How to Beat the Misery of Discontentment

“There is no greater sin than desire, No greater curse than discontent, No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself. Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” – Lao Tzu

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

I was talking to a loved one yesterday, a woman who from an outside point of view has everything: an incredible house with a swimming pool, a wonderful husband, two smart and beautiful and good-hearted children, and a life of mostly leisure. But as we were talking about contentment with life, she said, “That’s what I need — I need to find contentment.”

And there were tears in her eyes, and my heart reached out to her.

She’s not alone, either: many people feel that there is something missing from their lives, that despite having everything they need they aren’t happy, aren’t content, cannot find satisfaction.

I’ve been through stages in my life like this, and I’ve also climbed out of such ruts more than once. I know it isn’t easy, but I also know that it’s possible. Looking back on these times in my life, when I overcame discontentment, I’ve realized there are three things you can do:

1. Change your attitude and perspective.

2. Take some kind of positive action.

3. Do something that gives you meaning.

And you can do one of these things or all three, all at once, one at a time, or in whatever combination works for you. They can work alone, or together.

Let’s look at each one of these solutions.

Change Your Attitude and Perspective
This is huge. I can’t overstate the importance of how you look at things. And I know, the power of positive thinking is a cliche in the self-help world, but that’s because it works. It’s worked for me in everything I’ve done, and without it I would have accomplished nothing — no popular blog, no best-selling book, no running three marathons, nothing.

But it’s more than accomplishing things — by changing your attitude, you can become happy, almost immediately. It’s a choice.

Here are just a few but important ways:

1. Appreciate what you have. You already have some amazing things in your life, whether you realize it or not. Most of us have incredible family members, friends, other loved ones who love us back. Learn to appreciate what a miracle that is. Most of us have good health, which is another miracle. Most of us have eyes, with which to enjoy the amazing miracles of sunsets and nature and beauty all around us. Most of us have ears, with which to enjoy music, one of the greatest miracles ever. Be grateful for each of these things, and more! Take time every day, throughout the day, to thank life for all that it has given you, to thank others for what they give you, to be grateful.

2. Find good in everything. Everything can be seen in a negative way, or a positive way. I’ve said this before, but even the death of my grandfather was an opportunity for me to appreciate life more, to appreciate his amazing life, to appreciate the time I have with my loved ones, to be thankful I’m even alive. When I get sick, it’s a chance for me to rest. When I was jobless once, I had more time with my family, more chances to create, a fresh start on life. When your child is throwing a tantrum, he’s expressing himself, asserting his individuality, being human. Find the good in anything that normally irks you, in anyone who you have issues with.

3. Start believing that you can change things. A general feeling that things are too difficult to change, that they’ll never get better, can in itself be the cause of our problems. Instead, start believing that you can make things better, and you will open the doors for change. And you can change things — I’ve done it, and many, many others have too. It’s possible.

4. Enjoy the moment. Whatever you’re doing right now, or at any time during the day, take the time to enjoy it. Anything: reading, writing, talking with a co-worker, taking a shower, walking up stairs, eating, washing dishes, sweeping. Anything can be fully appreciated if you pay attention. It makes life better.

Take Some Kind of Positive Action
It doesn’t matter what the action is, as long as you’re doing something positive. Start small — just take a tiny little baby step. But start.

And you know what? Taking that little baby step will feel like a victory. Then take that feeling of success and use it to take another little tiny baby step. And another. And then, yet another. And so on, until you look back and you’ve actually taken a series of baby steps that add up to a whole great amount of traveling. It’s amazing how the power of little positive steps can add up over time.

Two good places to start:

1. Exercise. Just do 10 minutes of exercise a day. Walk, jog, swim, do yoga, pilates, pushups, it don’t matter. The act of exercising regularly will make you feel amazing. It can turn your life around. Use this great feeling to do something else good. Read more: start the exercise habit, simple beginner programs.

2. Decluttering. Just declutter one shelf, one tabletop or countertop, one little corner of a room. That’s it. Just start, and then bit by bit (or a whole bunch at a time), continue to declutter. You’ll feel great. It’ll help you create the surrounding you need to change your life. Read more: how to declutter, 5-minute ways to start decluttering, great decluttering tips, fighting and beating clutter entropy.

These are just two suggestions that have worked for me and many others. But there are many other good ways to start: wake earlier, meditate, do some yardwork or housework, start paying off debt, or one of the actions in the next section, for example.

Do Something That Gives You Meaning
Often we feel dissatisfied with life because while we might have a good life — at least, all the comfort and leisure we need — we might not be doing anything that feels worthwhile. It might feel meaningless.

The cure: find meaning, do something meaningful. Just a few ways:

1. Spend time with loved ones. I love spending time with my wife and kids, with my sisters and parents, and other loved ones. It gives me joy. It feels more meaningful than most other things I do (besides writing). I recommend you take the time to do something with a loved one — just go for a walk, play a game together, have a conversation, it doesn’t matter what. Really be there — don’t be thinking of other things you need to do. Really listen. Really try to help the person if possible. It will make a difference in both your lives.

2. Volunteer. This is a common suggestion, but that’s because it’s so awesome. There is nothing like giving yourself — your time, you love — to something you feel is worthwhile. Make a call today to find out how to volunteer for an organization you like, and make an appointment on your calendar.

3. Create something meaningful. As I said above, writing is something that is very meaningful to me. Any kind of creating — whether it be writing, drawing, playing music, designing, building something — can bring meaning to your life. You’re creating something new, expressing yourself, sharing it with others so that it may enrich their lives and the world in general.

4. Make the lives of others better. Volunteering is just one way to accomplish this. But you could also think about your loved ones, your neighbors, others in the world around you, and think about how you can help them, make their lives better, even in a small way. That might mean baking them cookies, listening to them, cleaning for them, writing a kind letter, buying a nice gift, anything.

These are just a few ways, of course — there are lots of ways to do something meaningful. These have worked for me, but I’m sure you’ve found your own ways.

What are some ways you’ve found meaning in your life, and ways you’ve beaten discontentment? Share in the comments!


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