Ask yourself how you can begin to feel whole, complete, and unconditionally accepting of yourself right now instead of waiting years for these contingencies to be fulfilled—if they are ever fulfilled at all. This will empower you to take ownership of your personal well-being, instead of leaving it up to other people and factors that are largely out of your control.
3. Radically accept all emotions.
This is a tough practice, and you’re probably not going to like it—at first. Imagine a world where every emotion that you experience comes and goes like a wave on the ocean, like a visitor that stays for a while and gently leaves when it’s ready.
There are very few guarantees in life, but one that I can offer with absolute certainty is that whatever you are feeling right now is going to change soon. By definition, emotions have a lifespan. They have triggers, they rise to their apex, and then they gently taper away before being replaced by a new emotion. This is part of what it means to be human.
This seems all well and good, but the problem arises when we begin to create unhealthy relationships with our emotions. There are some emotions that we like so much that we hold on to them with a white-knuckle death grip—emotions like happiness, joy, elation, serenity, and other really, really pleasant feelings.
There are other emotions that we despise so much that we would prefer to never feel them again as long as we live—emotions like shame, sadness, despair, embarrassment, rage, and other really, really unpleasant feelings.
Which emotions do you want to always feel? Which would you prefer to never feel? It turns out that at the end of the day, all emotions are here to guide us and provide valuable information about the world around us. What if, instead of trying to cling to some emotions while pushing others away, you instead allowed all feelings to come and go, without needing to change them?
This radical appreciation of all of life’s experiences is a cornerstone to contentment, which is the idea that right here, right now, everything is OK as it is. Yes, that means we can be content with our sadness, content with our anger, content with our shame. We can be content with our elation, joy, and peace—and everything in between.
Contentment is the underlying acceptance of what it means to be human, unconditional love for all of life’s experiences, without the need for anything more than what is here right now. Once we learn how to bring this into our lives on a regular basis, we can finally begin to understand what the ancients meant by the knowledge of enough, the acceptance of the present moment, and true happiness.
Would you rather be happy or content? Let me know in comments.
Written by: Daniel Cordaro
This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
Republished with permission.