How to feel contentment when you don't have what you want, yet

It began with a guilt-free Netflix pleasure of watching Owning Manhattan and a powerful anecdote that gets straight to the heart. When Ryan was a 10-year-old boy, he drove past a cemetery with his grandfather, who asked him, “Ryan, do you know who’s in there?”

His grandfather went on to tell him about all the potential people—artists, mathematicians, athletes—and why he’ll never really know who those people are. Then he revealed the poignant truth: “Because cemeteries are full of wasted potential.”

And in that moment, despite how tired I was, I couldn’t help but feel an electric jolt in my heart. How could you not feel inspired to get off the couch, ditch the limiting beliefs that have hijacked your self-worth for so long, and embrace every opportunity life offers?

It’s how I’ve always felt….

But then, it’s easy to get caught up in the relentless pursuit of what we want. Whether it’s finding the perfect soulmate, climbing the career ladder, earning more money, improving our appearance, or building our character, the chase can sometimes feel like a perpetual promise of something better and never enough.

So, amidst all this hustle, can we be content in our life and in ourselves even as we work towards what we want?

As I was changing another diaper, I couldn’t help but think, why is it that we’re always so focused on the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey? Even if the journey can be ‘shitty’ (excuse the pun, lol).

I’ve come to realize that perhaps it’s not so much about finding happiness in the moment but finding contentment within the pages and creating our own joy as we move forward towards what’s pulling on our hearts.

And some days, this can be difficult.

Especially if you’re wanting a child and you’ve been trying for so long, or you’re wanting better health or a better health outcome…these situations can be extra tough to find contentment. 

Nevertheless, we live in a world obsessed with the future. But what if, for a moment, we just stopped and took a deep breath? Being present is a powerful antidote to the anxiety of what’s to come. It’s about savoring that first sip of coffee, taking a moment to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and finding pockets of joy in the mundane. When we anchor ourselves in the now, we create a foundation of contentment that no future achievement can shake.

Did I mention that this state of contentment is a learned habit?

Life isn’t just about the big milestones. It’s the small victories that often go unnoticed but are equally important. Did you manage to get through a tough day at work without losing your cool? Celebrate it. Did you finally finish that book you’ve been meaning to read? Cheers to you. Did you walk around the block in your neighbourhood? By acknowledging and celebrating these small wins, we remind ourselves that progress is progress, no matter how insignificant it might seem… but hang on, insignificant to whom?

And let’s not forget self-love.

In the pursuit of our dreams, it’s easy to forget to love ourselves. We become our harshest critics, constantly comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we’re behind or never enough. We might stop working out, eating healthy, or taking time for ourselves. It’s about being kind to ourselves along the way, forgiving our mistakes, working on our imperfections, but also knowing that our self-worth can’t be touched regardless of where we’re at in this moment and what we have or don’t have.

So, how do you feel contentment while still striving for what you want?

Practice being in the present moment without judgment. This practice can help reduce anxiety about the future and regrets about the past. How? You can take a few minutes each day to ground yourself using your five senses:

  • Sight: Look around and note five things you can see.
  • Sound: Close your eyes and identify four different sounds.
  • Touch: Focus on three things you can feel (e.g., your feet on the ground, the texture of your clothing).
  • Smell: Identify two distinct smells in your environment.
  • Taste: Focus on one thing you can taste (even if it’s just the aftertaste in your mouth).

    I think ambition is a beautiful thing. It drives us, pushes us to be better, and helps us achieve our dreams and in turn can help the world. But it can also be a double-edged sword if not balanced with gratitude. Gratitude can help shift your focus from what you lack to what you have. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day to create a habit of appreciation.

The road to our dreams can feel long and winding, filled with unexpected detours and roadblocks. Instead of fixating on the destination or being stuck where you’re at, can you develop a growth mindset? Viewing each twist and turn as an opportunity to grow and learn?

Building resilience definitely helps with where you’re at in this moment.

I remember when I first started walking on the streets of New York in my heels. They would always get caught in the cracks of the sidewalk, causing me to stumble and sometimes even fall (so embarrassing, ha!). But each time, I learned to navigate those sneaky paths a little better.

Just like navigating the tricky sidewalks of New York, life is full of unexpected obstacles that might trip us up. The key to resilience isn’t in avoiding these obstacles, but in learning how to handle them more effectively each time we encounter them.

Each stumble in my heels taught me something new about maintaining balance and watching my step. Similarly, each challenge in life teaches us valuable lessons about our strength and our ability to recover. Over time, what once seemed like major setbacks becomes part of our path to growth. We learn to stand up and dust ourselves off if we do fall.

The seemingly simple act of walking in heels on a complicated sidewalk becomes: embracing each fall as an opportunity to learn, improve, and eventually walk through life with greater confidence and grace. Each fall is no longer just an embarrassing stumble, but a step forward in mastering the art of resilience.

Surround yourself with a supportive squad.

Friends, family, even that barista who knows your coffee order by heart – these connections are your emotional safety net and sometimes can regulate our nervous system for the better.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of successful people are fit or striving to be fit? There’s a reason for that. Taking care of your physical and mental health is fundamental to building resilience and basically for everything. Do what you know what you’re supposed to do to help you with staying grounded and content within yourself.

Finally, how can we not add a dose of spirituality to our journey. Leaning on your faith can be incredibly grounding and finding that contentment along the way. 

You too might find peace in the words of Apostle Paul who wrote in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances… I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” This reminds us that contentment isn’t dependent on external conditions but on an inner reliance on God.

And for those who don’t vibe with the bible: philosophers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius spoke about finding contentment within ourselves through the practice of stoicism, focusing on what we can control and accepting what we cannot. And that it’s our perceptions of external events, rather than the events themselves, that cause distress.

So, my dear readers, finding contentment when you don’t have what you want is all about embracing the journey, practicing self-care, changing your perspective, and cultivating inner peace and resilience through faith and simply by holding onto that snapshot of your present moment a little longer.

What are some ways you find contentment in your daily life, even when things aren’t how you want them to be?

Love,
Irene