There are so many demands on each of us in the world it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain any kind of lasting contentment. It is my observation that contentment can be achieved even when the world around us is crazy, demanding and/or falling apart. Here are some contentment killers that might lessen anyone’s ability to be more content at any given moment.

Automatic Thinking

We all respond automatically to many situations around us all day long. We wake up in the morning and our first automatic thought is ‘what’s wrong right now?’ Instantly we identify the many discomforts we have at that moment. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m overwhelmed with the day ahead of me, etc. Essentially what you are focused on is what is or will be dissatisfying. These are usually Automatic Thoughts or Conclusions.

In relationships we can be rather judgmental and when this seeps into our marriage or with our kids or in any other relationship, we tend to become locked into seeing what the other person is doing that is hurtful, insensitive, wrong, inconsiderate, lazy, irresponsible, and more but usually more negative than positive. This judgmentalism becomes automatic as well and makes it nearly impossible to be pleased with this relationship. If your first thought mostly points out what is wrong with someone, you will rarely feel contentment in that relationship. Think about it for a moment, do you have someone who does that with you? Do you ever enjoy time with that person? Probably not when they are expressing discontent with you. Do you ever feel that person is content with you? Again, probably not.

When you are automatically focused on what is wrong or dissatisfying, you will not see what is right or simply not so bad. In fact, the more automatic you are, the more difficult it is to break out of this habit. It is way too easy to see what is wrong because you have expertly trained yourself to see the negative.

When I was younger and living in Minnesota, I took an internship in Wisconsin. I remember traveling home when it was dark and being astonished at the number of deer along the highway. I didn’t see the deer easily and therefore worried about hitting one of them. A couple of times, one jumped out in front of me and I narrowly missed it. When I learned to see the glow in a deer’s eyes, I could see them better at night. After several such trips, I was trained to see the deer and learned to relax and drive without worry. I began to automatically see the deer and therefore automatically slow down when necessary. In this case, it was good that I learned to see but in the case of automatic negative thoughts your sight becomes more limited and blind spots develop. Tunnel vision is a better example.

How many times during the course of a day do you restrict your thoughts to what is wrong or dissatisfying or uncomfortable? It is a good idea to keep a log of your automatic thoughts and then redirect your thoughts to what is different, more positive or even to what is neutral (neither negative or positive). Is it even thinkable to restrict your thoughts to what is only positive or constructive for a day or two?

The apostle Paul wrote in a letter to some Christians in the city of Philippi, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” This is instructive in that the contentment specialist tells us it is a skill to learn and grow in. How does one learn and grow in a specific skill? Trying, learning and practicing. The more attempts you make and the more knowledge you gain combined with steady insightful practice, the more accomplished you become. I dare say contentment takes years to develop a level of mastery—years of trying, learning and practice.

First step to try: identify your automatic thoughts that lead you to be perpetually dissatisfied.

Next step to try: be more mindful of newer perspectives about those automatic thoughts that might allow you to relax, not judge, let go or work a new process or solution in your life.

Finally: check your findings with a good friend who will be truthful with you and practice redirecting your automatic thoughts to the more mindful thoughts.

Next week look for Contentment Killer number two: Message Guardians.

Written by Scott Hendrickson, MACP