Cultivating Contentment (Part 1)

I think I’ve always struggled with happiness although I do have some fond memories with neighborhood friends when I was a kid. On the inside of my home I saw a lot of suffering that showed up as competition, criticism and envy, just to name a few painful ingredients. My childhood was not a happy time of my life, but somehow I managed to shut the door to my bedroom and create a mini-sanctuary equipped with my red rotary phone, black and white TV, and brown and white Siberian husky.

Throughout my childhood I was adopted by several families who must have picked up on the misery in my home. From an early age I was a heat-seeking missile, and in my surrogate families I witnessed several versions of happiness that showed me the possibilities of joy.

Fast forward to my life as an adult, and sustained happiness remained elusive. I’ve learned to find moments of joy with friends and family of choice. I’m grateful that my sense of humor and laughter are intact although I continue to take myself way too seriously. Yet, I remain an unfinished project.

1998 turned out to be a flagship year for happiness research when Dr. Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association and chose the theme Positive Psychology which started a worldwide movement. Time magazine even wrote a cover story called “The Science of Happiness” and Positive Psychology research expanded exponentially.

Two years later I enrolled in a coach training program and had the good fortune of meeting Positive Psychologist and Coach, Dr. Sandra “Sam” Foster. She reminded me again and again that “It’s not that anything has to happen but simply what could happen.” For a recovering perfectionist, those were soothing words. It was the first time I was encouraged to open the aperture and consider the limitless possibilities rather than to stay small and contained.

Through the years Sam has helped me refine my core values, explore my purpose and examine where and how I choose to invest my energy. Most recently, we focused on my book, It’s Not About the Sex and how I wanted to approach post-release marketing. After an intensive weekend of soul-searching, I realized that two words captured the process: Love and Ease. These simple words have become the touchstones for both the book project as well as my life and career in general.

In contrast to my esteemed happiness researchers, I’ve adopted the word contentment which seems to relieve the pressure sometimes associated with happiness or joy. Don’t get me wrong, I do have moments of joy, and I’m very grateful for those moments, but contentment seems more sustainable for me. Being comfortable in my own skin. Allowing myself to read a book, walk the dog, watch a movie. I aspire to more contentment and joy. And in the second half of this blog article, I’ll reveal practical action steps to cultivate contentment.

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