Practicing Contentment

To find happiness, look into practicing contentment rather than seeking more material wealth.

| July 2015

  • Contentment
    Contentment is often the result of conscious awareness of our lives, rather than an acquisition bolstered by material wealth and possessions.
    Photo by Fotolia/oocoskun
  • Slow Medicine
    Michael Finkelstein guides readers on how to achieve extraordinary health through a life of passion and purpose in “Slow Medicine.”
    Cover courtesy William Morrow

  • Contentment
  • Slow Medicine

Michael Finkelstein teaches that everything is inter-dependent in Slow Medicine (William Morrow, 2015), from muscles and nerves to minds, people and planet. To optimize our wellness, we need to become aware of each area of our lives and of their harmonious integration. In the following excerpt from chapter 5, “Regaining Your Energy: Getting in the Flow,” Finkelstein addresses practicing contentment as a form of conscious awareness.

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When we start humming more in tune with the natural order, we can approach the kind of peace of mind that’s necessary to reap the reward of extraordinary health. But how many of us do that? And how many get sidetracked in the pursuit of illusory goals like money and material goods? Despite what our culture promotes, the true essence of extraordinary health and happiness has nothing to do with extraordinary wealth—nor will even a relative lack thereof prevent you from attaining it, if you ask the right questions and strive to answer them with good sense, good science, and intuition.

Lots of studies by economists and psychologists have concluded that, assuming you have enough money to cover your basic needs, you will not grow happier as you grow more materially wealthy. In fact, I would argue that as you pursue more and more material wealth, you’re likely to get out of balance, out of sync with the real valuable rhythms of the universe—and you’ll wind up far less happy and healthy. Instead, you can attain a tremendous peace of mind, starting soon, if you change your thinking about contentment and what that would mean to you.

Change Your Thinking and Find Contentment

Taoism’s sacred book, the Tao Te Ching, says, “He who knows contentment is rich,” a phrase echoed ages later by Henry David Thoreau: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” This is true contentment— and lately, it’s rarer than diamonds. Money is wonderful in that it allows us to afford the things we need and even want. I will admit that I enjoy my beautiful home in my beautiful town. And I will tell you transparently that I find joy in having the security to be creative and enjoy some of the material trappings I can afford. But truthfully, I understand that “trappings” are called that for a reason. I know the less we want and crave—the less we get used to the “stuff” around us—the happier we will be. As I write this, a few blocks away from me, in the barn on one of the loveliest (and most expensive) estates in Bedford, the police this morning cut down the hanging body of Mary Kennedy, surely one of the richest and most “successful” of my neighbors. While we really can’t know all that was going on in her mind, our hearts sink at such a time. Clearly, the whole Kennedy clan with their endless stream of tragedies provides an object lesson in how prosperity, power, and success have no bearing on inner peace, balance, health, or happiness.

Today, we are so screwed up that we willingly close our eyes to life’s realities in order to maintain a status quo—or to continue an “upward” striving for more of everything—that paradoxically leaves us far from contentment, having missed the joys of the journey. We value outer experiences and material possessions, and we routinely (and mistakenly) look to external sources for contentment. Food, cars, money, jewelry, clothing—all of the stuff that’s supposed to promise us either satisfaction or an easing of discomfort. But why are we uncomfortable in the first place? We don’t know, because we fail to ask ourselves.

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