Happy New Year! We have wished the old year good riddance and turned the page to fresh opportunities for living and aging more vibrantly. I am grateful and happy to say good-bye to 2021 and welcome 2022. With the New Year, I offer some compelling reasons to put personal contentment at the top of your 2022 resolutions list. So many of us (me included!) make resolutions that fade away by the third week of January. This is one I hope you’ll fulfill. Being more content doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it spring fully locked in by wishful thinking. It takes work. Yet, being satisfied in one’s life yields benefits that make it so worth the effort.
In 2005 Dr. Loraine Lavellee and her team at the University of Northern British Columbia created The Contentment with Life Assessment Scale (CLAS). With this new tool, scientists saw a clear difference between feeling happy and being content. According to The Greater Good Science Center at the UC Berkeley, “Contentment comes from our relationship to what is going on around us, rather than our reaction to it. We can feel contentment even when our external environment is completely nuts.”
When we feel content, satisfied, more at peace, we live longer. National Geographic’s award-winning photographer and journalist, Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer, observed folks in what he calls the “Blue Zones”—areas in the world, or “longevity pockets.” Older adults there live longer than the normal life expectancy, often reaching one hundred healthy years old. One of the big reasons why? These septuagenarians (70-79), octogenarians (80-89), and nonagenarians (90-99!) all felt a greater sense of contentment with their lives.
Contentment comes from acceptance and letting go, like the message of the Serenity Prayer. At midlife and after, when there is more sand in the bottom of the hour glass, we can slow the filling by working toward being more content with our lives. How can you be more content? Here are some of the best strategies.
Let Go of Regrets
We don’t get a re-do on the foolish or hurtful things we did in the past, but we do have the power to let go of feeling guilty, bad, or frustrated by those less-than-stellar-choices. Grant yourself allowances for being human and for making the best choices you could at the time, given where you were and what information was available. Period.
Forgive Everyone and Yourself
Forgiving everyone for all the wrongs you think they did to you doesn’t mean in ANY WAY you condone what they did, but consider that they also made the best choice of behavior available to them at the time. Forgiveness means letting go of grudges and allowing yourself freedom from continually reliving the hurts. The same goes for forgiving yourself, although this one is often more difficult. Please, keep trying!
Work to Stay in The Present Moment
When you start whirling and twirling at some event outside yourself, as we all do, stop for a few seconds. Let stillness envelope you. Take three deep breaths and ask yourself this question:
Am I O.K. in this moment?
Chances are, you’re O.K. When we stay in the present moment we have all the power. We experience, even momentarily, peace of mind. We can then make a conscious, carefully considered decision about what to do next. In an acutely stressful situation or mortal danger, our wonderful brain keeps us completely in the present moment so that we can make the best, life-preserving, decision. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be that aware–minus the drama?
Adopt, or Pick Back Up, Your Gratitude Practice
Writing down what is going right in your life, what you’re grateful for, centers you and brings you back to the present moment. At the beginning or end of your day, take a few minutes to record five things you are grateful for that day. During your day, take those three deep breaths and be grateful for three things going right at that very moment. Re-reading your list in stressful moments will reorient your perspective to one of being more content with what is and how blessed you truly are.
Find Friends Who Support You
Obvious, you would think, yes? Many people missed the day this was taught at Vibrant Aging School. Recognize those who don’t fully support and love you and gently let them go. Give your heart to those who do and look for new ones to add to your world.
Share Your Gifts with Others
Blue Zones author, Dan Buettner, and more research finds that those who give their time and talents by volunteering and helping others are much more content than those that don’t. Growing research confirms volunteers live longer and are happier. My hope is we can all return to volunteering in 2022. Don’t give up on this important aspect of aging vibrantly!
Incorporating even one of these suggestions into your life will be a worthy and rewarding goal for 2022. Take it slowly and stay consistent with your practice. In a few months’ time, feelings of greater contentment, tranquility, and satisfaction with your life will soften and nibble away at the edges of your anxiety, fear, and frustration.
Until next time…Be Vibrant!