This time of year we focus on what is next. With the dawn of a new year upon us, we plan for new beginnings by making lists of new habits to replace our old ruts and seeking to become better as the new year unfolds. This in itself is a pattern that repeats. We make our lists and commit to things like new fitness memberships or diets we intend to follow.
But as the months continue on we tend to fall away from our self-prescribed resolutions. Then, with the feeling that we’ve failed in some way, we dig back into the trenches of our old habits and await next January, hoping we’ll have more motivation for change the next time around. This cycle is unhelpful, largely because it promotes a sense of restlessness and unhappiness.
Instead of engaging in this self-constructed cycle of promises and letdowns, let’s embrace the most radical resolution there is: contentment.
What is wrong with me?, the New Year’s Resolution asks. What do I need to change? Resolutions often suggest we should be doing something we that we aren’t, and that we should be something other than what we are. While resolutions are usually set with the best of intentions, we treat them as a goal to be achieved, an improvement to be made instead of a process. This suggests that if we get to the end point we’ve set, we will be satisfied, and with that satisfaction will come peace and happily ever after. Of course this is not true. Discontent will follow us around, regardless of who we are or what we have.
Discontent is a state of mind, and is not truly related to our situation.
Contentment too is a state of mind, and it is largely unrelated to the stuff we have or what we’ve accomplished. When we are unhappy, it is often a restlessness in our mind that can and should be replaced with a sense of contentment in all things. This means we are content to be where we are and content in where we are going. It is as easy as focusing our mind on what we have and what is right rather than what is wrong.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t make good choices or set goals for ourselves, but each goal should be a process and not a destination.
For example, if we are looking to lose weight—one of the most common New Year goals—we should approach it in two ways. First, we should cultivate being content in our body the way it is. Miraculously, it carries us around every day and keeps us alive! Second, the goal should be to move our body (perhaps more than we usually do) and give it the fuel it needs, feeling that miraculous aliveness each and every day. Within that goal, we cultivate contentment and stay in the process, while still moving in a positive direction.
This is very different than suggesting a target weight and proclaiming that we’ll only be satisfied once we reach it. It can be helpful to know where we are going and exciting to see progress, but we don’t want to be miserable every step of the way. Even change should come from a place of contentment.
We as human beings are smart and well equipped to use logic and reasoning to back up what we think should change. We can easily believe that if we are healthier, we’ll feel better, do better and somehow that will take away our problems. However, discontent follows us wherever we go because it is a state of mind and is not related to the outward situation. The more we reason with ourselves about what to fix, the more we create discontentment. Like any habit, the more we practice it, the easier it becomes. We may think that we’re finding solutions to our problems, but really we are practicing being unhappy.
As the new year unfolds, practice contentment first and foremost. It can be as simple as expressing gratitude for someone near and dear to you, stopping to recognize how much you have (it’s enough, I promise), feeling your heart as it beats and your breath as it moves. From that place, you may choose to eat healthier or take an extra yoga class. Let those choices come from your joy and contentment instead of the desire to be something other than you are. All is well.
Publisher’s Note: Ida Jo holds the title Yoga Acharya and is head teacher of Ghosh Yoga