“Contentment is a dynamic and constructive attitude that brings us to look at things in a new way.”
This is a translation of Patanjali’s Sutra 2.42 by Bernard Bouanchard that says that contentment (santosha) is an attitude or way of thinking that we can bring to our lives. Is that true, or is contentment the result of our actions? Other translations of Patanjali’s Sutra 2.42 do not introduce the term “attitude”.
What is Contentment?
Patanjali says it is neither to like nor dislike things that come along. Since we love to judge and label things (and Like things on Facebook), this can be hard to do! For me, contentment has come to describe my state of non-attachment to things I was formerly attached to, and a reduction in cravings and fear…a more peaceful state of being.
My first reaction is to disagree with Bouanchaud, because in my own life, just “staying positive” hasn’t worked. “The Secret” comes to mind as a wildly popular book and movie that seemed too superficial to be effective. So I have tended to think that contentment is an effect of our actions; once I do this and that, I will then be happy. It’s true, yoga class workouts, self-study (therapy, rehab, etc.), and study of Patanjali’s Sutras have resulted in my feeling contentment.
All these actions, the activities I have done and put effort into, would be called kriya yoga, the yoga of action. Yoga’s answer to Nike’s Just Do It.
Attitude Comes First
But…contentment (santosha) is one of the five niyamas, or “do’s” (there are also 5 “don’t’s” which make up the “yoga ten commandments“). So if it is in the do’s, then it means it is a tenement, or rule to live by. It’s a “to-do” item, meaning we should actively try to feel content. “If something comes, we let it come. If it does not, it doesn’t matter”, writes Patanjali. So even though thinking positively didn’t transform my life on its own, the idea that “it doesn’t matter” grounds me, bringing me back to my higher purpose. “It doesn’t matter” means that I am safe and always will be.
Furthermore, bhakti yoga, yoga’s concept of devotion and faith, implies that your attitude, or simply having faith, will lead you to contentment. Honestly, back in my most difficult times, devotion, and faith in the world and in my future, was sometimes all I had. My attendance in strenuous yoga classes, self-study, and spiritual study was driven in part by hope, as well as encouragement from all the results I was seeing.
Lastly, neither liking nor disliking everything in our lives is another simple way to actively cultivate contentment. Working on withdrawing my own tendency to judge everything, to get to the bottom of everything so I can close the door on it and move on, has freed my mind and infused me with energy.
Perhaps The Secret, and positive thinking, have a place after all. Though I still believe that less thinking is the key to contentment (The Secret promises ways to manifest “success”, and then from there, you experience happiness). I’d love to know what your thoughts on this are. Happiness and contentment are not really the same thing, and that’s where things can get blurry. (I am on “Team Contentment“, for the record!)
Is contentment something we can create in our minds and bring to the rest of our lives, or is it the result of our actions? I believe it is both. Kriya (action) and bhakti (faith/belief/attitude) together. For each person, the ratio between the two is different. To close, here are some ideas from some famous people… Namaste!
“As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” Dalai Lama
“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” Dale Carnegie
“Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.” Zig Ziglar