03. Contentment: The art of being satisfied with who we are and what we have 


What would you do?

José Mujica, president of Uruguay, 2010 – early 2015, has been described as the world’s poorest and most generous political leader. He doesn’t have a bank account, lives in a modest farmhouse instead of the Presidential Palace, and drives a 1987 VW Beetle. By law, his annual salary is about US$ 150,000, of which he keeps 10% for personal expenses and transfers the rest to a Foundation which supports small productive enterprises and NGOs working on housing developments for the poor. That leaves Mujica about US$1,250 a month “I do fine with that amount; I have to do fine because there are many Uruguayans who live with much less”saidMujica in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

The benefits of contentment

Contentment has the potential to: 

  • develop the ability to enjoy what we already have, instead of being relentlessly driven by desire
    physical health
  • help us find peace and happiness in our everyday life and relationships 
  • slow down the cycle of living faster, consuming more, and destroying the environment

A 16 Guidelines view on contentment

Contentment is a state of mind that has nothing to do with money, objects, or other people. Nor does it concern itself with how much we have, or how little. Instead, it’s about finding a point of stillness within ourselves which allows us to be quietly happy whatever our situation might be, and to be at peace with who we are.

How do we experience contentment? It can be as easy – and yet as radical – as taking a breath in, and deciding to release everything that makes us feel anxious and dissatisfied as we breathe out. Try settling deeply and quietly in a traffic jam, in the middle of an argument, or when tears are close. Let the commotion of the world simply come to rest. Is it possible to taste the experience of surrender and release?

Unless we learn to live in the moment, and to accept it as it is, we may never function well or feel fully alive. Contentment releases us from the restless desires that drive us blindly forward, and which prevent us from being open to the needs and gifts of others. It frees us up to direct our energy in fresh and more conscious ways. Can we discover how to enjoy contentment despite the hurry and worry of our contemporary existence?

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing contentment


Did you know?

For young people, 60% of happiness is about excitement, say scientists at the University of Pennsylvania. In contrast, as we get older we associate 80% of happiness with ‘peacefulness’.

Research found that people who practiced meditation at least three times per week, compared to those who didn’t, were better able to deal with stress. Creating this time of calm in the day builds positive emotions of interest and contentment, which helps people realize feelings of centeredness that they may not have realized before. 

The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory. People with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience. They also tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities. Moreover, the effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient. 


Miriam Ufberg: On Contentment, Positive Psychology News Daily, NY - March 29, 2007 

Mogilner; Kamvar; Aaker: The shifting meaning of happiness, Social, Psychological and Personality science journal, July 2011 vol. 2 no. 4 395-402

Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, Arthur A. Stone:?Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion, Science 30 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5782, pp. 1908 – 1910?



“There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for anyone’s greed” said Gandhi, who gave up his career as a lawyer to campaign for justice and peace in areas such as the alleviation of poverty, religious tolerance, economic self-sufficiency, the rights of the ‘untouchables’, and – most famously – for Indian independence from foreign domination. 

Gandhi was intensely interested in the issue of contentment, which he associated with a return to traditional values and a simpler way of life. He combined the role of international statesman with a highly disciplined lifestyle that included lifelong vegetarianism, spending one day each week in silence, and – most famously – wearing nothing but a traditional Indian loincloth, which he wove himself. When rebuked for not dressing more formally to meet King Edward VIII, he responded: “The King was wearing enough for both of us!”

For more on Gandhi, see:

  1. www.mahatma.org.in - the official Archive and reference library
  2. The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer, published by HarperCollins in 1997
  3. Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley and directed by Richard Atetnborough, released on DVD by Uca in 2007


A short reflection on contentment from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images of feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

Call to mind something to which you are currently attached. This could be good, a person, clothing or a place. See it, hear it, taste it, touch it and feel it. Focus all your attention on the object and observe what happens. Feel the pull that it exerts on your mind. Then, lay it aside. 

Next, call to mind something for which you currently have a strong aversion. This could be some food you find disgusting, a person who irritates you, a place that depresses you or a song that annoys you. How does the mind react? If it is a taste, imagine rolling it around your tongue; if it is a touch sensation, imagine rubbing it up against your arm. Stay with the feeling of aversion for as long as you can. Observe what happens to the mind. Then, lay it aside. 

Try to recall a time when you were perfectly content, like a tree unshaken by the wind. How did this feel? What difference did it make to the way you behaved, and the choices that you made? 

Reflect on the experiences you havejust had. How often does your mind get tossed around by the senses? How quickly does it move from one object to another? What effect does this have on your behaviour and your relationships? Would you like to be more peaceful and contented? Sit with whatever conclusions you draw from this exercise and allow them to deepen. 

Close with the wish "May all beings be happy!" 


Quotes on contentment

  • When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. – Lao Tzu
  • I had the blues because I had no shoes, until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet. - Persian proverb
  • There must be more to life than having everything - Maurice Sendak
  • I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it's not the answer. – Jim Carrey
  • A person will sometimes devote all their life to the development of one part of their body - the wishbone.  – Robert Frost
  • Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have. – Source unknown
  • Some people are so poor that all they have is money. – Source unknown
  • He is rich who is content with the least; for contentment is the wealth of nature. – Socrates


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