Cultivating Contentment

We all want to feel happier, but pursuing happiness directly can be a self-defeating paradox. The more you chase happiness, the more it recedes over the horizon, never fully materializing. At least not for long.

And why do we find happiness so elusive? Because it’s just a mood state like any other; it comes and then it goes, like water through your fingers. You may feel a temporary spike in happiness when something wonderful happens, like landing your dream job or falling in love, but before long the feeling will subside and you will return to your baseline. Soon you’ll start chasing the next thing that you hope will make you happy. And then the next. 

I’m convinced that when high-functioning, growth-oriented people come to therapy or coaching in search of happiness, what they really need is something else: contentment

Contentment is more than a mood state; it’s a mindset you can cultivate. It encompasses happy feelings, but also appreciation, gratitude, satisfaction, and peace. While happiness always wants more, contentment takes pleasure in what is. If contentment had a mantra it would be this: All is well in my world and I am so grateful to be exactly where I am. 

This article is about how you can take greater joy in your life exactly the way it is, while still growing, evolving, and yes, even striving for more. I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

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Cultivating Contentment

For ambitious people who care about personal growth, contentment can feel like a dirty word. It’s the emotional opposite of what we think of as motivation, which depends on wanting things to be different than they are. 

When we’re motivated, we’re not comfortable. We’re hungry. Often we’re totally miserable, which is when most of us do our best growth work. Our job isn’t good enough. Our relationship isn’t good enough. We’re not good enough. And “not good enough” is such a painful feeling that we’re willing to work to avoid it. Even though everything in our monkey brains is wired to seek the most gratification while expending the least energy, we will actually put down the remote, change out of our sweatpants, and engage in the laborious process of gradual improvement to avoid feeling inadequate. 

None of this is fun, but it’s where most of us find our motivation. And aren’t we shattering that system when we embrace contentment? If you’re content with your job, why build new skills to get ahead at work? If you’re content with your relationship, why work on communication problems, or attachment issues, or speaking each other’s love languages? Why change anything?

While it can feel like contentment and motivation are opposites, they actually support each other. Recognizing that you don’t have to give up the desire to improve can be an important step in cultivating contentment (especially for anyone with a problem with perfectionism). 

How to Be Content

Cultivating contentment is not about settling. It’s about leaning into the path of personal growth and taking satisfaction in the process of building something, rather than expecting the ultimate fruits of your labors to finally make you feel happy or “good enough” in a deep or lasting way. 

It’s trite, but true: Contentment is about the journey, not the destination. It’s about appreciating all the stuff that happens in between where you are now and where you want to go. 

Here are some tools to help you along the way: 

  1. Take an Honest Inventory of Your Life. 

Where are you now? Where did you come from? What did you do to get here? Where would you like to go next?

You can ask yourself questions like this about all the domains of your life — your finances, your relationships, career, home, hobbies, and more. Journal about your answers, and don’t just focus on the things you’d like to be different. Take notice of what’s already working and what you’ve been able to build for yourself. It can be easy to breeze past our accomplishments and immediately begin focusing on the next goal without taking stock of how fantastic we are. Always remember where you’ve come from, and all the steps you took to get where you are.

Take some time to put your current reality in the context of your past and your desired future. You’ll feel gratitude for yourself and for the life you’ve already created.

  1. Explore Your Goals & Opportunities for Growth

Identify the things about your life that you’d like to change. Maybe you’ve told yourself that, once this is different or that is different, then you’ll feel happy. Try making this shift instead: I could find satisfaction in the process of working toward this goal, but it won’t really change how I feel long-term. 

Once you’ve identified your goals, think about the “why” behind them. These are your values. For example, maybe you want to make a career change because you value having more time to spend with your family. Or because you value financial freedom. Or reaching your highest potential on your chosen career path. Different people will attach different values to the same goals. Finding your “why” will help you find meaning in the process of growth and change. 

If you realize you have a goal that doesn’t seem to have a deeper value attached, that may be a sign that it’s not a great goal for you to strive for. It may be a product of what you believe you should be or want, rather than your true self or your heart’s desire. Learning that would be a great outcome of this process. 

  1. Get Insight into Your Mindset

The next step is gaining some insight into your mindset. This is important because, no matter how excellent your life is, you can sabotage your happiness if your mindset isn’t helpful to you. 

Therapy and life coaching are great tools for exploring your mindset and uncovering negative thinking patterns (and if the root of your negative thinking patterns is a problem like depression, it’s super important you seek out help from a qualified therapist). 

Journaling can also be a helpful exercise. If you have a tendency to focus on the negative and discount the positive, that will affect how you feel. This tendency is very common and can happen at a very subconscious level; that’s why journaling or working with an outside professional are important for noticing your patterns over time. 

Another mindset that can be self-defeating is the unrealistic expectation that when XYZ changes, then you’ll feel happy. In reality, when whatever you achieve comes to pass, you will not feel very different than you do now — at least not for long. You may experience a “peak moment” of excitement and joy, but it will pass and you will return to your baseline. 

Your new mantra is this: My circumstances have very little impact on my overall internal mood state. If I want to change my mood state, I need to focus on my mood state, not on my circumstances. 

Personal Growth and Contentment

You can and should take joy and satisfaction in achieving your goals. But that’s not the key to a sustainable, long-term happiness, the kind that will buoy you up throughout life. The path to true happiness — contentment with your life, just the way it is — is all the stuff in between. It’s experiencing your own limitations and surpassing them, laughing at yourself, watching yourself improve, and meeting people who are also engaged in the journey. Productive, goal-driven activity is the path to contentment, but not the destination. 

I hope this episode of the podcast gave you some new ideas for ways to begin cultivating greater contentment, feeling more at peace with your current reality, and taking more enjoyment in the process of making your life even better. This work can be deep, and often the best way to learn these skills is through a trusted relationship with a compassionate, knowledgeable professional who can help you gain insight into your mindset and achieve a more balanced perspective. If you’re interested in growing in this area, we invite you to schedule a free consultation meeting with one of our therapists or coaches.

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Cultivating Contentment

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Almanac with their song “The Waters of March” (a cover of Águas de março by Antônio Carlos Jobim). You can support Almanac and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. We all want to be happier, but maybe, chasing happiness is the wrong goal. This episode is all about cultivating contentment and figuring out how you can enjoy your life and yourself just the way you are. And keep moving forward, too. 

We’re enjoying the music of a band called Almanac together. This little sonic poem is called the Waters of March, and I thought it was just so beautiful and cute and really doing a nice job of setting the tone of our discussion today. Because today, we’re talking about noticing, appreciating, valuing all facets of this amazing journey that we’re on, and learning how to cultivate the experience of contentment in the face of all kinds of life challenges. 

Because at the end of the day, I think that’s really what it’s all about. And I hope that by the end of this episode, you have some new insight and perspective to help you achieve that state of being that you deserve to have. So thank you to Almanac for setting us up for this fun conversation. And you can learn more about Almanac, check out their albums, tour dates, all the things at

We’re gonna be doing some work together in this episode today, my friends, because as you know, if you’ve listened to this podcast before, the intention of the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is to be an active partner in your growth. So I’m doing more than just spitting out information and ideas. My real hope and intention is that you’re walking away from these episodes with a new perspective that helps you grow. 

I just want you to know that we are co-creating this experience together, and I’m growing right alongside of you. I want you to know that I have been checking out reviews, for those of you have so kindly left them for me on Apple Podcasts and all that. And I take your feedback to heart and I really appreciate it. And it’s helped me make some changes in the way I organize these podcasts and the way that I do things. 

Your feedback helps me grow, and I am just so grateful for those of you who were gracious enough to offer that for me. And I’m also listening to you. I want you to know that. So I have things set up on my website, Come over to the blog-podcast is the URL of that page, where you can access all of our blog articles and podcast episodes. 

But also, send a little email. Submit the form. You can leave me a voice memo if you’d like to have your actual voice be included on the show. But your ideas and your feedback about what you want to hear more of, what you want to hear less of, the questions that you have, the ones that you leave on Instagram, Facebook, @drlisamariebobby on Instagram, the ones that you email to us,, I read all of those. 

I also see the comments that you guys are leaving on our podcasts, and the posts that we create for our podcasts, the articles. And I am now, just so you know, very much in the process of creating a bunch of new content for both of us for next year, and really taking all of your comments and suggestions and feedback to heart. 

If today or at any point in the future, if you have things that are coming up for you and you’re like, “Lisa needs to know this,” or, “What about that?” Please share them with me because again, the whole intention here is to have these be really helpful for you, meaningful for you. And that is why I’m here. I think it’s why you’re here. So let’s do this together. 

I’m particularly excited about today’s episode, because I think, this is a really, really important topic, and a really overlooked topic. I have people reaching out all the time and my clients– so if you haven’t heard this podcast before, just a backup and lets know who I am. So I’m Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m a licensed psychologist. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m a board-certified coach. And I’m a counselor, I’m a coach, and I work with clients. 

I’m the founder of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, that’s my practice. I’ve been working as a counselor and a coach for such a long time, and I’ve helped a lot of clients individually in their relationships, and the things that I hear over and over again are around, “At the end of the day, I just– I want to be happy. I want to enjoy my relationship. I want to feel good about myself. I want to feel satisfied with my life.”

“I want to feel like my career is meaningful for me and one that I enjoy.” And I think that that’s what all of us really want, at the end of the day, is this experience of love, of happiness, of success, right? And those things are much harder to achieve in reality than we think, right? 

Because what we get tricked into believing – and this has happened to me throughout my life, I’m sure you can relate – is this idea that we need to attain something, change our circumstances, do something, grow in some way before we will feel happy, content, pleased with ourselves, with our lives. So I’m going to challenge you to actually think about this for a second before we dive in here, consciously or even subconsciously. 

If this is the first time somebody has asked you this question, this may take you a second to kind of think through, but what do you believe needs to happen or change before you will feel happy? Is it something about yourself, your relationship, your career, the state of your house, something that your partner is doing or not doing, something about your life? Like, what is it? It might be a few things. 

For some people, unfortunately, for a lot of women, we’ve been socialized to believe that if we look a certain way, if our bodies are a certain way, then we will feel happy. But until that happens, happiness is elusive. 

We’re striving and striving and striving, or looking around our lives at all the things that are not the way we want them to be, or that need to be improved, or– when that happens, and have a lot of stress and anxiety, and unhappiness because of that, and this mental/emotional equation in our minds as well. 

“When this is different, then I’ll be happy. I’m really busy at work right now, but on the other side of this thing, then, we can have a good time,” right? Or, “I’m single. When I meet my person, I’ll feel happy. Or maybe It’s my relationship. When this is different, when we’re married, when we have kids, when we move, when we move again.” I mean, it’s endless. “When I find a better job.” So I just wanted to point this out because this is a problem, right? 

I mean, like the the core problem, the obstacle, that for many of us, stands in the way between ourselves and what we really, ultimately want at the end of the day, which is to feel happy. So what does feeling happy mean? Right? I think that it is, for all of us, feeling good; content. “All is well in my world. I am happy with myself. When I look around my life, my circumstances, my friends, my family, my everything, I’m happy with what I see. 

I’m having a good time. I’m enjoying this. I’m appreciating this.” I mean, contentment is really the internal experience of happiness in many ways. And because it’s so easy to fall into this way of thinking that says, “But I can’t feel that way or I won’t feel that way until I achieve my destination or my goal.” It seems like that experience of contentment is always elusive. 

Even, here’s the hard thing, when we do strive and work and attain the thing; we become home-owners, we have a kid, we buy the car, we graduate from whatever; like those milestones that we’re working towards and striving towards, then we think that, “Okay, this is it. And then, on the other side of that things will be different for me.” 

What we learn, I’m sure you’ve had this experience as we all have, is that the pleasure of those moments are fleeting, right? I mean, few hours, few days, and then we just start focusing on the next thing, and then the next thing. Right? And there’s research around this. In positive psychology, Martin Seligman called this the hedonic treadmill, like, there’s actually a name for it, right? 

It’s this need to be this endless conveyor belt of achievements and things and improvements and constant never-ending improvement, to use the Tony Robbins phrase, and it’s exhausting., and it’s endless, and it’s constant. And I think it’s true that achieving true happiness and true contentment and true satisfaction, you have to get off that conveyor belt and figure out how to achieve contentment in yourself, in your life as it is right now. 

But there are also problems with that, which is, “Well, okay. So if I decide to be content, does that mean that this is it? Am I done? Do I stop working for things?” And that thought in itself can create an enormous amount of anxiety for people, especially people who are ambitious and high achieving, and do legitimately want more for themselves, and their lives, and want to keep moving forward. So it’s a real bind. 

That’s what we’re going to be diving into today. And so, if you were thinking about some of the things that you were maybe subconsciously attaching that idea of happiness to in your mind, I want you to just make a mental or literal note about that. And then, I hope, our discussion today will help you get some new clarity and perspective on how you can achieve those things that you want, but allow yourself to be happy.

In the meantime, and first of all, I just would like to share that I first started thinking about this topic in a new way based on a discussion that I had with a really inspiring journalist that I don’t even know how we got connected over the years, bt my journalist friend, her name is Jessica Migala. She is a really interesting author. 

She tends to write a lot about psychology, wellness, relational issues, personal growth issues, and you can find her work in all kinds of different places, but she reached out a while ago, because she was working on a piece for Women’s Health Magazine, which is now out as of November of 2020 if you want to take a look for it. 

But Women’s Health magazine, and co-created the story with her colleague, Simone Boyce. And the big question was, “How do we cultivate contentment, and why is that so hard?” And in preparation for helping contribute to this piece that she was working on, I started thinking about this in a new way myself.

Because I’ve had these conversations with many clients over the years, but in order to sort of synthesize this until like, “Okay, here’s the problem, and here’s what we need to do in a more organized way.” Having that conversation with her, I think, stimulated those ideas in me. And now, I’m thrilled to share them with you. 

But I also did want to give a shout out to Jessica Migala, because she’s doing all kinds of good stuff, and you can keep up with her work and her articles on, M–I-G-A-L-A. Good stuff. Okay, so first of all, sort of considering this, I think it’s always helpful to define our terms, right? And so, what is contentment, and how is this different than what we think of as happiness? Right? 

Because happiness is this alpha and the omega, right? It’s a state of being. But when we break happiness down into different components, like– the idea of happiness itself can be quite complex. I mean, there are different kinds of happiness. There are different flavors or colors of happiness, and when I think of contentment, I think of a very authentic and substantial, enduring kind of happiness. 

That is, I think, in many ways, the ultimate goal. I mean, if contentment is feeling at peace, being able to say to yourself and also feel, “All is well in my world,” and experiencing the feelings of gratitude, appreciation, pleasure, satisfaction, that is really what we’re all hoping to feel, right? 

Because happiness can also be like a peak moment. Something really thrilling or exciting or fun happening. Like those peak experiences or laughing until you can’t breathe or just having a most amazing time, and those things are all wonderful, but those are like the sparklers, the sizzle. 

Whereas, I think of contentment as being this much more like a daily experience of, “I love my life. This is so great. This moment is just so perfect, and I’m so happy right now.” And it’s just amazing to have that feeling, and also to see it in others. 

That was one thing that– there’s been a lot of writing and research on the experience of some children or adults who have like intellectual disabilities, or physical disabilities, just like commentary on so happy, how happy they are. And I know that that can be a very difficult and challenging life experience in some ways. 

But there’s a recent blog post on, that did a nice job of describing what is known to be a phenomenon of parents of kids with special needs. Maybe they’re not having a good time, but, over and over again, talk about just the joy and delight that they see their children taking in the world in the simple pleasures in a way that sometimes feels elusive to the rest of us, right? 

That’s one thing that I always really appreciated about my mom before she passed. She was kind of the epitome of this, without fail. It was a holiday, a birthday, anytime the family was all together, at some point during the day, she would just– there’ll be a pause in the conversation, she would look around the table, and she would say, “This is the happiest moment of my life.” And she meant it. She was so sincere about it. We’ll all be like, “Yep, there it is.” 

“Let’s drink to that.” But it was fun. And my mom was really good at that. I, on the other hand, am an Enneagram type three. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Enneagrams, but I can tell you that a type three is an achievement-oriented personality. It’s exhausting. 

It is hard, I think, to be an achievement-oriented person, and really feel and experience and even want that kind of day-to-day contentment that came so easily for my mother, who was oftentimes just happy to be here, which is great. 

The big problem with contentment, and why this is so hard, and I can speak to this from personal experience, and also professional experience because my clients tend to be the kinds of people who are coming to work with me or coming to work with my practice, Growing Self, because they really do want more for themselves. 

They want to grow, they want to figure themselves out, they want to resolve problems in their relationship, they would like to make changes in their lives, changes in their careers. And so they’re coming because they are interested in growing in some way. And the real problem that I see with this whole concept of contentment is that it feels like it all sounds good. 

When we talk about contentment, we’re like, “Yes, I totally want that.” But the practice of contentment, it feels like the opposite of motivation. And motivation is another one of those things that sounds good when we talk about it, right? Motivation is this internal state of wanting something, of feeling driven, feeling like you have the energy, the motivation, the drive, the desire to do hard things in order to create a new reality, in order to create change, right? 

Motivation itself is difficult because, while we think of motivation as being a positive thing that we would also like to cultivate, the experience of motivation– what motivation actually feels like is often distress or anxiety or unhappiness or frustration with things being as they are. I mean, wanting something more. That doesn’t necessarily feel like a positive thing. 

People also get confused about what motivation is supposed to feel like, because it’s not this exhilarating, like, “Yes, let’s do amazing things.” It’s like, “Ugh, I hate this. How’s this gonna be different?” Right? Like, that’s the energy. And so, both contentment and motivation has dark and light components for sure. 

But I think that, many times, when I’m talking with clients about contentment are actually  working on this practice in my own life, if I am 100% content with things as they are, does that mean I’m settling? Does that mean I’m no longer striving or wanting things to be different? Like, how can that work if I have anxiety about certain aspects of my life as they are and a desire to change things or feeling frustrated and wanting to change things? 

How can I, at the same time, experience an authentic state of contentment that allows me to enjoy things as they exist currently. There’s a weird paradox between growth and contentment, right? Growth and happiness. And by the end of this podcast, I hope that you will have a more clear understanding of how they can, not just coexist, but really support each other. 

But I did want to just give voice to that paradox. And the reason why the achievement or pursuit of contentment as a goal is so hard for a lot of people. I mean, to practice contentment can make a lot of people, especially high achievers or people with perfectionistic tendencies feel quite uncomfortable, because it seems sort of diametrically opposed to what it is that they’re trying to do. 

Now, of course, we know that there’s also a problem with unbridled motivation, a.k.a. ambition. Because if we’re always keeping our eye on the next thing or whatever’s happening right now is not good enough. “Okay, yes. I achieved this thing, but what’s the next thing?” And then, by looking at this next thing, off in the distance, what exists in reality currently is no longer as I wish it to be. 

That makes it difficult to feel grateful or appreciative or content with circumstances as they are, and can really be a true obstacle for people feeling happy or good, truly. And also, because the experience of motivation and ambition also does come with a lot of stress or anxiety, like that’s sort of the emotional fuel, a lot of times, for motivation. 

It’s a difficult mood state to experience all the time. When you’re always comparing what you have with what you would like, or this imaginary kind of comparison of what things could be versus what they are. So, I have done a lot of work around this in my own life. This is something that I’ve worked with many, many clients through over the years. 

I am going to share some of the tips and ideas with you that have been really helpful for me and for my clients, and I hope that they’ll be helpful for you, too. There are a few different steps that I often walk with my clients through and I’ve worked through these myself. 

But if the goal is, how do we feel content and also keep growing and evolving as people– if that’s if that’s what we can kind of collectively decide we want and deserve, I think, the first piece of this– of achieving this, is to take a really honest inventory of your life. 

I am a writer type. When I grow up, I want to be a writer. But what helps me is journaling, whiteboarding things. But really, I have to get things out of my head and onto paper in order to sort through this. You may have a different practice. For some people, it’s drawing or imagery, or some people are really good at visualizations. 

Some people really process and figure things out externally. They are talking about this, which is one of the real benefits of having a good coach or counselor in your corner is to be able to– as you tell them about this, you’re listening to yourself say it for the first time. And as you’re helping them understand, you are helping yourself understand that’s the experiential process at the core, oftentimes, of good therapy or coaching. 

But the goal here is to really do this inventory of your life, where you’re able to do put it all out on the table like, “Okay, what do I have? What have I done? Where am I now? Where would I like to go? What is my life Like? What am I like? What is my family like? What are my relationships like? What is my career like? What is my house like?” 

“What is my financial health like? My spiritual health like?” All of the physical health, actually, can be another important domain, but like, there are many different domains of life that are worthy of consideration and assessment. And I think, to just kind of like inventory these in an organized way can help us achieve a lot of clarity, not just about what our goals are, our growth opportunities, and the things we’d like to have be different. 

But as you do this really thoughtfully and intentionally, we can also begin to see, “What is working for me? What are currently the circumstances of my life that maybe, I don’t notice intentionally enough, but that are actually pretty awesome. And that, when I slow down and look at this, things are good for these reasons.” Also, I think taking an inventory of where you’ve come from, right? Like, it’s so easy to just gloss over our past achievements. 

But what have you done? Where did you come from? Where are you now? And what were all those milestones and steps along the way? And what was it about you that allowed you to do all of those hard things? 

Being able to do this kind of work in an intentional way, I think, helps you celebrate your successes, acknowledge your gifts, your abilities, the things you can do, the things you do have, and makes it much easier to be intentionally grateful, appreciative, and happy with the things that you have built into your life. 

There’s also a lot of research again, coming from positive psychology about the power of gratitude. And to develop a very intentional, deliberate gratitude practice can be one buffer from that constant and never-ending achievement kind of mindset that makes it so difficult to be happy and content, and can allow you to experience the appreciation and the wonder and the joy with your life and yourself and your everything as it is. 

Because, even if there are other things that you would like to improve or work on or have be different, that is not the whole story. It is all a mixed bag. It’s very easy to have a problem-focused mindset that obscures all of the wonderfulness. And so, to do this inventory, get clear about what’s working, can really help you acknowledge that and feel more appreciation and gratitude day-to-day and put that into practice. Do that on purpose. 

Little gratitude journal, it sounds like the simplest thing and I think it’s been talked about so much in popular culture that it’s become kind of trait like, yes, everybody on Tik Tok or Instagram wants me to have a gratitude journal, but there is actually real cognitive and emotional power in this practice. You’ve heard it from me now, too, as well as the Instagram, TikTok influencer, 19-year-old.

The other thing that you’ll want to do as well, as you take this inventory, would– first, invite you to focus on what is working, what you have done, which do you feel good about, but also in a kind of clear way, understand what your growth opportunities and goals are. And not in a, “Ugh, I hate this, and I’m beating myself up because of XYZ.” 

But really, in a thoughtful, honest, authentic way of, “Here are some things that I would like to have be different about my life, my health, my relationship, my relationships with my kids, my home, my sense of having my act together.” I mean, whatever it can be. But be writing those down in a non-judgmental and clear, honest and hopeful way. These are the things that I aspire to, right? 

I think that the act of writing those down, and especially talking about the why– “Why is this important to me? Why would I like to have this be different?” Challenging yourself to think through that can provide, not just direction, but also clarity about your values, the things that are important to you, and I think, also, create this sense of meaning, right? That there’s more to the goal of having X amount of dollars in the bank or whatever it is, right? 

It’s why. Like, “What would this change for me? Where’s this going? Why am I working so hard? Why do I want this so much?” Even some honest reflection around, “Do I actually want this is this thing that I’m telling myself that I have to have, in order to be happy? Is this actually important to me?” And that sounds weird, and I’ve talked about this on other podcasts, and certainly talk about it all the time with my coaching clients. 

But we all have core beliefs and ideas that are not congruent to us, are not connected to our own values, they’re ideas and beliefs that have been taught to us by other people, by our parents, by our culture, about the things that should be important to us, about the way we should operate our lives, or what the definition of success should look like. 

I, upon further exploration, have so many times walk with clients who have discovered to their delight, shock, and also, sometimes, horror, that these goals, these desires are not actually intrinsic to them. And there’s quite a bit of emotional freedom that can happen when that’s discovered. 

This inventory process is really important, it’s really worthwhile, and it’ll help you cultivate appreciation, and also clarity about the things that are actually important to you. And then from there, the other thing that we’ll need to inventory is to take an honest look, not just at your growth opportunities, but also at your mindset, and this is difficult to do by yourself. 

If you are a big journaler– this is so embarrassing, I’m going to tell you anyway. One of the ways that I’ve actually gotten more clarity about my own mindset over– through the years– I mean, so listen, being in therapy, which I’ve done. Being in coaching, which I’ve done. Love both of those. Like, that’s the easy way to get insight into your own mindset, is that somebody else look at you be like, “Oh, really. That’s interesting.”

But from journaling, the way that I found is like, because of keeping the journal over a period of time, and then looking back at my journals, can see things that I’ve written years ago that are similar, or sometimes, different from the things that I’m writing currently. 

But being able to observe the way my own brain works, from the perspective of time has been very illuminating and can uncover some of these cognitive patterns that we all have. And so, one of them that really is very common, but also is very problematic when it comes to achieving a feeling of contentment, is a tendency to focus on the negative, and we all do this, right? 

But very easy to overlook, discount the positive, and instead, be focusing exclusively on that. But this. But that. What’s wrong? What’s wrong with the situation? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with whatever I’m looking at right now? And these thinking styles, the focus on the negative, is so subconscious, it’s so ingrained, that we don’t even realize that we’re doing it when we’re doing it. 

But by focusing so much on the negative, it really impacts the way we feel about ourselves and about our lives. And also, what has been so interesting to me over the years, as I’ve observed this in myself, but I think, especially with my clients, is that many people arrive into adulthood with this subconscious core belief, that internal negativity is a positive and virtuous thing. I know. I’m gonna just let this sink in. 

When we see it in others, we can say, “Oh, you’re being too hard on yourself. You’re being really kind of negative about this situation. Yeah, I know, but like look at all the great things that are going on in your life.” Like we can see it in other people, but in ourselves, this focus on the negative, beating ourselves up, criticism of the self, discounting of success, it is often experienced by us as feeling helpful and protective. 

“If I am telling myself that I need to be better, then I will move forward. If I am pointing out my own flaws to myself, then I will be less vulnerable to repeating mistakes. If I am discounting my success and looking at what’s next, then I will continue to grow.” Right? So it turns into this, “What’s next? What’s more? How can I improve? I’m not quite good enough.” 

I think what’s very interesting is, like when we can see this in ourselves, and how familiar this thinking style is, to us how comfortable, how comforting it is. And when we can observe how many people talk to children, right? It is just this constant reprimands, “Don’t do that. Stop that.” 

“Go over there. Do this, not that.” That as children, depending on the kind of family culture you’ve grown in, this can be quite pronounced. But that’s this constant evaluation of what you’re doing, what you’re doing wrong, what you need to do better, this is the way it should be, that is the way it should not be, right? Good, bad, right, wrong. And to be able to think about, and this is where it gets really deep. 

If there was a Freudian in the room, they would be lighting a cigar right now, but here you go. To think about who or what did you need to be as a child in order to win approval, affection, love. For many people that was through achievement, it was through doing things, through our accomplishments, through behaving in ways, or that we’re kind of in alignment with the values and belief systems of your parents or caretakers, right? 

To work so hard to win approval in the space of, “Here’s what you need to do in order to get this love and approval, and trying and trying and trying.” And to think about, “Did we ever get that?” Did you ever have that experience of just, “You are fantastic. I love you just the way you are. You are just right, and I’m so happy with you. And just the experience of sitting in your presence is a gift to me right now. And I just love everything about you.” 

That is not the way that people talk to children, typically, in our culture unfortunately. But I think that it’s worth considering where those narratives, where those tapes came from in the first place. 

Because when we understand it, where this desire to grow and improve and strive and develop and more and ‘this and that and the next thing,’ comes from, we can, I think, become more empowered in the face of it, and get to make our own choices about what’s important to us. And some insight into what are the little hamsters that are driving that wheel.  It can be an interesting and worthy of discussion. 

I think, too, it can also help lift the hood or peek behind the curtain, so to speak, on the amount of anxiety that we have when we think about being content, when we think about just, “Maybe, this is actually good enough. Maybe I can be happy with my life as it is.” Because again, particularly for perfectionistic types or strivers, it makes them feel very, very anxious when we talk about, “Maybe, it’s good enough.” 

“Maybe, you’re okay, just as you are,” right? Somebody with an achievement orientation is going to immediately say, “But then, does this mean that this is it? Is this my life? Am I at the top of the mountain? Like, I thought it would be different? It’s uncomfortable.” And then the other thing, so even if you don’t have a striving orientation, that contentment, it’s like, “Are you sure?” Here’s the other thing that is really, really hard and is also true. 

Do you, like most people, have a subconscious core belief that when your circumstances change, that whatever it is that you want to be different, that when it does, then you will feel differently on the inside? That you will finally feel happy and content. Whenever whatever the thing is has changed. “I can’t be happy unless my house is clean, I have more money, our relationship is better, my partner does what I want them to, stop talking to me that way.” 

“Like, I can’t be happy unless these things happen.” I’ve met people who cannot be happy if their home is out of order. They will stay up until two o’clock in the morning, dusting and straightening pillows, because if they don’t do that, they feel internally agitated until they have restored order in their home. 

The new, possibly horrible thought, but also, hopefully, helpful thought is this, that whenever you have achieved whatever that thing is, you are not going to feel all that different than you do right this very second. Whatever it is, this mood state, this life experience that you’re having right now, this is also how you are going to feel three years from now, when you have graduated from whatever, when you have bought the house, when you have changed your relationship.

Your internal thermostat is set to whatever it is. You could have a peak experience, you can feel good about the whatever it is, you can say, “My house is clean,” but you’re going to feel just as agitated tomorrow. 

The key to true happiness and to contentment, and the way to feel the way that you want to feel is not by trying to change your circumstances, or your reality, or your relationship, or your whatever. It’s by learning how to change the way you feel as its own thing, that has nothing to do with circumstances. 

That is accomplished by learning how to think differently, and by learning how to cultivate the experience of contentment by changing the way you think, changing the way you feel, changing your narrative, changing your perspective, changing your beliefs, changing your expectations. That is actually the way that we change the way we feel is through that practice. 

A new mantra that you may consider just telling yourself over and over again, “My circumstances have very little impact on my internal mood state.” You can have a negative experience that you feel particularly bad about one day, you can have good experience that you feel particularly happy about one day. 

We can think about life events and circumstantial things as kind of being like the weather, right? It’s cold, it’s warm, it rains, it snows, it’s windy. Like, those things exist. But the way that we typically feel most of the time, our ambient state of something like happiness or contentment is more like the climate, right? 

It is trending in a certain way. It is, generally speaking, relatively warm in equatorial countries, right? They still get rain. There’s monsoon season. Locusts fly through. Like, weird things happen. But we can expect that most of the time, it’s warm, and that’s like that ambient mood state that we’re talking about, right? 

In order to really shift this, we need to focus on that ambient mood state. And that is created through the deliberate cultivation of contentment, and the internal ability to regulate ourselves. And so, just to illustrate this point, like, if you’re listening to this and thinking somewhat skeptically about this, like, “I don’t know, I feel pretty bad or happy about certain things in my life right now, Dr. Lisa.” 

I hear that, but I would like to invite you to think back to your life 10 years ago, 20 years ago, even longer if you’re the same vintage as I am. And think about the things that you aspired to at that time in your life, and how you felt and what was going on. For me, 20 plus, close to 30, years ago, living in weird fleabag apartments, cars that broke down, being worried about money, right? 

Still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. That was creating a lot of stress, all kinds of different things that I can think about were very stressful. That made me feel unhappy. And at that time, I could not have dreamed. I mean, like really, if somebody was like, “Tell me about the most amazing thing that you could think about.” 

To have a beautiful family, to be a homeowner, to have a car that doesn’t break down all the time,  to be, not wealthy necessarily, but have less anxiety about being able to make ends meet day-to-day, to feel somewhat settled in a career path at that time.

I mean, to think about even going to graduate school would have been like– I might as well just,  climb into a rocket and shoot myself to Mars. That’s about how attainable it seemed. And if I had a picture painted for me at that time, I mean, my aspirations were much more modest. 

But somebody had said, like, “This is going to be your life in 20 or 30 years,” I would imagine that I would just be like floating on clouds, and so happy all the time, and stress free, and everything is great, and my life is perfect, and there’s nothing to worry about, and I would feel so happy. 

What I can tell you, and I’m sure– like, as you think back on your own life, how you expected to feel when X, Y and Z happened is that, “If I’m not careful, if I’m not cultivating contentment, and practicing my own emotional intelligence skills, and very deliberately managing my feelings and actively working on my narrative , and doing the things that I need to do to actually feel happy and content on the inside.” 

“I can just, as easily as anybody, go down the tubes of stress and anxiety. And this is wrong, that is wrong. Oh, my God. What are we going to do? And like, I’m so stressed out right now. A zillion things piling up mentally in my brain and getting burnt out and getting bought out.” It doesn’t matter, the things that I’ve attained, right? It’s the practices, it’s those internal states.

The point is that if you are able to really take on board that this idea, that our growth, our progress, our continual evolution is an internal journey, and our experience of happiness and contentment is a completely different thing than goal achievement, or life improvement, and it’s actually acquired through a very different process than we’ve been socialized to believe. 

You now have the key to being able to work on your life and achieve great things and keep moving forward, and also feel very happy and content with yourself and your life, and the process. 

If you don’t figure out how to cultivate those internal states, it doesn’t matter what you will accomplish, or what you will do, or what your house will look like, or what you will look like, or whatever, you will only be swapping out one source of stress, frustration, discouragement, for another, just a new one. 

Instead, we need to shift into this understanding that the process of growth is actually the experience of being alive. That this is what it is, this movement forward, and that, during the process, you can feel very happy as you are in the process of moving from one space to another space. The process itself can be fun, and enjoyable, and exciting. 

I am going to share another resource that I have probably mentioned on this podcast before because it made such an important impact on me and on my life. I don’t even know how I came across this but I really want to share it with you. It’s actually an obituary that was written by a luminous writer called Jane Lotter. 

It’s a long obituary. I will include the link to it in this post for this podcast if you’re interested in reading the whole thing. But she talks about her life and her relationships, and I’ll just read you a portion here that really meant something to me. She speaks to her husband, she says, “Thank you for all the laughter and love and for standing by me at the end. To my children, I love you so much, and I’m so proud of you.” 

“I wish you such good things, and may you, every day, connect with a brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that the obstacles in the path are not obstacles. They are the path.” She goes on to say, “I believe that we’re each of us connected to every person and everything on this earth and that we are, in fact, one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence.’ 

“Of course, we may not always comprehend that, and really, that’s a discussion for another time,” she says. “So let’s cut to the chase, I was given the gift of life. And now, I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman who led a lucky existence. And for this, I am grateful. When I first got sick and then the cancer returned, I decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than being sad about having to die.” 

“Amazingly, this outlook worked for me. Well, you know, most of the time. Meditation and study of Buddhist philosophy also helped me accept what I could not change. At any rate, I am at peace. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world, this sun, that moon, that walk around Green Lake, that stroll through the Pike Place Market, and the memory of a child’s hand in mind.” 

“To my beloved friends and family, how precious you have all been to me. Knowing and loving, each of you was the success story of my life. Metaphorically speaking, we’ll meet again joyfully on the other side.” And she signs off by saying, “Beautiful day, happy to have been here.” 

I wanted to share those ideas with you. I am of the opinion that people who are standing on the doorstep between two worlds are conduits of wisdom that are not always accessible to people who are firmly on the mortal plane. 

But the things that stood out to me the most from what she shared are this idea about the brilliancy of life, the magic that is to be found in those day-to-day moments that are so easy to overlook while they’re happening, but are really the things that we think about, and appreciate in the end. “The memory of a child’s hand in mine,” right? That’s it. That’s all we have at the end of the day. 

This reminder that the obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they are the paths. And so the good news, and the thing that I would like you to take away from this podcast is this idea that you don’t need to get cancer to achieve this next level space of contentment with your life and yourself and all of the magical moments that are happening for you and around you, each and every day. 

That the obstacles that you perceive, the things that you are imagining are the problems, the things that are creating so much stress and anxiety and angst– this is your hero’s journey. You figuring this out, solving those problems, learning and growing from the experience is the process of personal evolution at work. And in action, this is the machinery of growth. 

I would like to invite you to consider that you get to be happy and content right now, by changing the story about what it should be, right? “I can’t be happy until this is different,” is very different between, “What is happening now is exactly what is supposed to be happening. This is how it feels to be a growing evolving person.” 

“My ability to feel happy and content right now, in this moment, as I am doing this work; my ability to do that, right this very second, is going to determine how happy I will feel when I have achieved whatever it is I think I should.” So we can take pleasure in growth. We can be content in the process. To think of mountain climbers. People who climb mountains for fun. They’re around. I live in Colorado. I talk to them occasionally, don’t totally understand them. 

I’m like, “Okay, great. You go climb your mountain. I’ll be here reading my book.” But in talking with them and kind of seeing it through their eyes, I can understand. There’s so much that they love about it. There’s preparation to climb a big mountain, there’s planning. I mean, months and months of planning. The gear is a lot of fun. The acquisition of the gear– like, they love it, right?

The activity, the travel, the experience of movement, the relationships they make along the way. All of the little things. Possibly the act of walking up the mountain, although, I can’t imagine how actually pleasurable that might be. But then there is that peak experience. The, “I am going to stand on top of Kilimanjaro,” or whatever it is, but also the identity, right? 

“I am a person who climbs mountains for fun,” like they’ve kind of built their lives around it. But they’re going up this, and they’re having this experience, and then they’re coming back down again, and then they’re doing it again. 

I don’t– I think it would be misguided to think that once they got to the top of that mountain and had that experience, then they will forevermore be be happy. Like, maybe they will carry that experience inside of them for the rest of their lives, and that’s certainly worth something. But this idea that the actual process is the part that’s gratifying, rather than the attainment of whatever it is, right? 

Being aware of your goals, and having things to strive for, having motivation, having aspirations is in itself fun. It is energizing. It is how we define our purpose, our values to ourselves, to others. And it’s through these activities that we create meaning in our lives, and also how we grow and evolve because of that process, right? 

But the contentment and true happiness is found through the enjoyment of that process, enjoyment of growth, enjoyment of having puzzles to figure out and problems to solve, and new things to learn. And even the experience, the gift of failure, the gift of hardship, the gift of having setbacks, the gift of feeling disappointed, the gift of experiencing your own limits, right? 

I mean, those are of enormous value. And some may say, the wisest teachers, nobody learns anything about themselves when things are simple and easy, and nobody’s trying to do anything differently, right? Productive goal-directed activity, to have a vision for the future, and then try to create it. It’s the gift of the human experience. But it’s also a curse if you don’t recognize it for what it is, right? 

It is the game we’re all playing. It’s the journey. It’s the field on which we develop. It is the experience of life. It is not the destination. So be content right now, and enjoy every moment of this grand adventure you are on, right this very second. You are doing it to be here now. 

To take inventory of everything that’s going well, everything that you have to do, a realistic assessment of what your goals and growth opportunities are, and enjoy that process of attaining them. But also getting really clear about those internal mindsets and core beliefs that will make happiness and contentment impossible for you, no matter what you do. Those are the pieces of the work. 

I really hope that this discussion was helpful for you and provided you some with direction and and guidance around where to work on yourself and where to focus that growth, so that you can enjoy it yourself and your life. So thank you so much for spending this time with me today. I enjoyed having the opportunity to think through things on my own, and in preparation of being able to talk through them with you. 

I hope you’ll join me again next time for another episode of the podcast. And then, if you have comments, growth opportunities for me, I’d love to hear them. Ideas for another show or questions for me, things that would be helpful for you, please tell me, You can send an email You can leave comments on social media, on the blog page of our website, and yeah, I am accessible. I look forward to hearing from you soon and you’ll hear from me soon. I’ll be back in touch next week. Okay, in the meantime, here is more Almanac with Waters of March.

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