Contentment actually has quite little to do with our circumstances. Research has found that the bulk of what determines it, is due to our personalities and — more importantly — thoughts and behaviors that can be changed. So this means we have a huge opportunity to teach our kids the thoughts and behaviors that lead to contentment.
People who are content seem to intuitively know that their happiness is built on things like:
- Devoting time to family and friends
- Appreciating what they have
- Maintaining an optimistic outlook
- Feeling a sense of purpose
- Living in the moment
True contentment really starts with a deep acceptance of our present. It’s hard to be content when we’re stuck in the past or worried about the future. It’s also hard to be content when we’re always chasing – the next promotion, the next milestone, the next 10 lbs on the scale – so we’re not able to really be and enjoy the present.
It’s a release of this “when and then thinking” – we all do it. “When I get _____, then I will be happy.” Instead, take control of your attitude and stay in the present.
Here are 3 ways you can help your children learn the art of contentment.
Foster an attitude of gratitude
It’s impossible to develop contentment without gratitude. If our kids are going to live lives of contentment, they’re going to have to learn to focus on the good things in their life, not the things they lack.
Gratitude is more than words, it’s more than saying thank you. It’s a sense of wonder, appreciation, and thankfulness for life. It’s easy to go through life without recognizing your good fortune. Often, it takes a serious illness or other tragic events to jolt people into appreciating the good things in their lives.
Back in episode 40, I did a whole episode on encouraging our kids in gratitude, so you can go listen to it. It’s really interesting – we broke down gratitude into four parts:
- What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
- How we THINK about why we have been given those things
- How we FEEL about the things we have been given
- What we DO to express appreciation in turn
As it relates to gratitude, one of the biggest game-changers we can do is help our kids gain an awareness of all the things they have to be grateful for. We do that by asking questions. Here are some examples of NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO questions parents may ask children about their gratitude experiences.
NOTICE: What have you been given or what do you already have in your life for which you are grateful?
THINK: Why do you think you received this gift? Do you think you owe the giver something in return? If you answered no to these questions, then you may be more likely to be grateful.
FEEL: Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What does that feel like inside? What about the gift that makes you feel happy? These questions help the child connect their positive feeling to the gifts that they receive in their lives.
And this is that final step in gratitude – the DOING part. Here’s how those questions might sound: Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift?
Like so many other skills we’re trying to reinforce with our kids, repetition matters. In order to form a habit of mind, sometimes you must first form a habit of speech. By repeatedly encouraging our kids to say “thank you” or “please” for gifts or items, it reinforces a mindset of thankfulness. Although it may seem half-hearted at first, over time most kids begin to really understand the significance of their words, especially if you are helping them learn gratitude in other ways as well.
Break the buying habit
Our kids are living in a world of consumerism and materialism. But if we want to raise content children, we’ve gotta be intentional about coming against consumerism that’s telling them they’ve gotta have certain stuff, in order to be happy or satisfied – content.
I think for a lot of us when we’re feeling discontent, our instinct is to evaluate what we’re missing – and that evaluation is usually what stuff we’re missing. It’s our old clunky car, we don’t have the right shoes for an outfit, our bathroom needs to be remodeled – whatever it is.
Awareness is key – so I think just becoming aware of ourselves when we’re looking for stuff to satisfy us is a huge step. And then we can extend that to our kids. We can help them break that habit because the satisfaction of material objects is temporary.
So the next time we recognize discontentment surfacing in our life or in our kids, let’s take a beat about the root of it before we try to get stuff to satisfy it. And I think over time as we re-wire this pathway in our brain, this pattern of thinking, then we can start to intentionally break this thinking and true contentment will begin to surface. Learning to enjoy simple things that aren’t stuff. Meaningful conversations. Walking in nature. Reading a good book. A trip to the beach. These things are all free and can often offer true and lasting joy.
Courage them to explore their purpose
People who feel like they’re part of something bigger and fulfilling a purpose – and it doesn’t have to be their careers, right? These people are more content. The purpose is the single greatest motivator in life. And this is true for our kids too. It’s not just our desire for them to live a life of purpose, but it’s just innate in us as humans. We all want to accomplish things that are meaningful. We all believe the world needs improving and deep down we all want to be part of the solution. And that shows up differently for everyone.
Back in episode 22, I did a whole episode on helping our kids discover their purpose. And the first thing we discussed is how as parents, we play the supporting role in helping our kids discover their purpose, rather than taking the lead. Our kids finding their purpose isn’t something we can force. But we can help guide the exploration into their talents and passions and the things that will ultimately lead them to discover their purpose and how they’re called to contribute to this world.
And then we talked about how we can share how we feel fulfilled in our purpose. How are they hearing us talk about our purpose? Are our jobs just to make money and are we always complaining about them, or are we showing them all the opportunities we have to make an impact, to make the world a better place, each day?
And finally, we’ve gotta play offense, not a defense when it comes to purpose. If our kids are working toward something and seeing each step as a means to an end that’s important to them, they’re going to be so much more motivated to discover and live a life of purpose, than if they’re just doing things out of obligation. Helping them to have a vision and understand their “why” is key!
And how do you encourage contentment in your home? Let us know in the comments!