May is Mental Health Awareness for companies across the United States. The focus has turned from profits to mental health, improving employee wellbeing and happiness (vs contentment). Leaders in HR are reaching out to their favorite vendors (thank you!) for support to help create a happy environment.
But what if it turns out that happiness is not the right goal? Richard Bentall, a Professor in clinical psychology, suggests that happiness may be a psychiatric disorder. In this review of psychological literature, here is what he found:
- Happiness is statistically abnormal. The University of Chicago did a survey based on half a century of research. It’s report- only 14% of American’s are very happy.
- Happiness consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms.
- Happiness is associated with the range of cognitive abnormalities.
- Happiness probably reflects an abnormal functioning of the central nervous system.
In short, “happiness” may not be sustainable.
I spent years running around trying to find happiness, and the more time I spent looking for it, the less time I spent actually being happy. Not to mention when I did find it- usually inside a chocolate croissant- it never lasted for long. Happiness may not be the right long term goal.
The power of contentment
What if instead of striving for happiness, we seek contentment instead? In yoga, we call this santosha. Santosha simply means to have acceptance for what is. Instead of wanting things to be different, we have tolerance for the situation we are in. If something more comes, let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.
Here are a few situations where we can practice contentment.
Happiness vs Contentment as an entrepreneur
If you’re a small business owner and you’re looking for more clients to make you happy, consider showing gratitude to the clients you already have. This doesn’t mean that you stop looking for new clients. It means that your internal peace doesn’t depend on those external factors. If a new client comes, great! If not, it doesn’t matter.
Happiness vs Contentment as an HR leader
If you’re running a wellness program within your organization and want more employees to attend your events, consider being appreciative to the people who were already attending. This will make them feel good, and tell their coworker to come to the next event. If more people come, great! If not, it doesn’t matter.
Happiness vs Contentment as an athlete
If you are training for an event and want a certain outcome or award to make you happy, consider what it would be like if the outcome were different. Do you still find value in the training? If so, can that be enough regardless of your goal? Visualize what it would feel like to win the award you strive for, and also visualize what it would feel like not winning the award. Can you visualize these two outcomes with neutrality? It’s tough (I know), but it’s powerful (I also know). If you win, great! If not, it doesn’t matter.
When we can accept the situation we are in, we are content. Santosha is a state of being. It’s a way that we show up in the world, not something that we do in the world.
Throughout the next 4 weeks in May, we will look at the science behind it, including various ways to improve our mental health. You can start by joining our daily meditations, or try this 15 min Contentment sequence on your own. If you need support, you know where to find me!