Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love spending days cooking a nourishing (and hopefully delicious) meal for my family. Few things can compare to the sense of contentment that comes when everyone is full, happy, and relaxed. Contentment, or santosha, happens to be one of the niyamas described in our ancient yogic text, The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, and it offers a perfect lesson for the holiday season.
Contentment asks us to stay calm, centered, and grateful for the abundance already present in our lives. When we approach each moment with equanimity, we are fully present. We don’t seek a different reality, we don’t wonder what we are missing, and we don’t ask for things we don’t need. There are multiple benefits that come with the observance of contentment.
Being content where we are keeps us from projecting into the future. If we always are waiting for the future to live, then we miss the perfection in the present moment. There are many stories we tell ourselves about how our future will make us happy. “When I get the promotion at work, I’ll be happy.” “When I lose this last 10 pounds, I’ll be happy.” “When I find my soulmate, I’ll be happy.” Waiting for happiness bogs us down and keeps us from the joy that can happen in any moment. It robs our present for an imaginary, ego-created future.
Contentment also keeps us from the “grass is always greener” phenomenon. Especially in the age of social media, we look at others and want what they have. We constantly compare and contrast ourselves with others as a way of feeling better about our lives. Contentment tells us that we can be happy for others, and still appreciate the abundance in our lives. Joy always comes from within ourselves anyway.
Another way we can practice Santosha is by recognizing our attraction and/or repulsion towards things and experiences. We can waste valuable energy trying to keep ourselves surrounded by our likes and avoiding our dislikes. Things are neutral, only the way we frame them in our minds make the desirable or not. This is not to say we accept harm, but rather use this discernment to keep you from overresponding to things and people that you encounter. Think of the great yogi, Krishnamurti who famously told his secret to life, “I don’t mind what happens.”
Finally,one of the best ways to cultivate contentment is by practicing gratitude. By observing our blessings, we can positively affect our mood and our health. A formal gratitude practice has been linked to increased feelings of contentment and connection, and a decrease in depression. These are only two of the many benefits. There are a few different ways to practice gratitude, one is by keeping a journal, another is by writing thank you notes (emails and texts count) to people in your life. The attitude of gratitude will elevate the spirit in any form.
Thank you all for your support, and reading this message. I hope it helps you remain content and have a beautiful holiday season.