16 Steps to Contentment

Image depicts office worker in meditation mode in the middle of a work day.

In our daily lives, we often rush through tasks, trying to get them done, trying to finish as much as we can each day, speeding along in our cars to our next destination, rushing to do what we need to do there, and then leaving so that we can speed to our next destination. Unfortunately, it’s often not until we get to our final destination that we realize what madness this all is. At the end of the day, we’re often exhausted and stressed out from the grind and the chaos and the busyness of the day. We don’t have time for what’s important to us, for what we really want to be doing, for spending time with loved ones, for doing things we’re passionate about. There’s no contentment.

And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to live a simpler life, one where you enjoy each activity, present in everything (or most things) you do and are content rather than rushing to finish things. This fantastic quote by the late Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, summarizes something that I’ve been trying to focus on recently in my daily life:

Whatever the tasks, do them slowly,       

with ease,

in mindfulness,

so do not do any tasks with the goal

of getting them over with.

Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way,

with all your attention.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

If that appeals to you, let’s take a look at some suggestions for living a life of simplicity, peace, and contentment.

How to Live a Life of Contentment

Happy young woman enjoying freedom with open hands at the sea

  1. What’s important? First, take a step back and think about what’s important to you. What do you really want to be doing, who do you want to spend your time with, and what do you want to accomplish with your work? Make a shortlist of four to five things for your life, four to five people you want to spend time with, and four to five things you’d like to accomplish at work.
  2. Examine your commitments. A big part of the problem is that our lives are way too full. We can’t possibly do everything we have committed to doing, and we certainly can’t enjoy it if we’re trying to do everything. Accept that you can’t do everything. Know that you want to do what’s important to you, and try to eliminate the commitments that aren’t as important.
  3. Do less each day. Don’t fill your day up with things to do. You will end up rushing to do them all. If you normally try (and fail) to do seven to 10 things, do three important ones instead, with three smaller items to do if you get those three done. This will give you time to do what you need to do, and not rush.
  4. Leave space between tasks or appointments. Another mistake is trying to schedule things back to back. This leaves no cushion if things take longer than planned (which they often do). It also gives us a feeling of being rushed and stressed throughout the day. Instead, leave a good-sized gap between your appointments or tasks, allowing you to focus more on each one, and have a transition time between them.Modern workplace with laptop and sticky notes near light wall- managing time for greater contentment concept
  5. Eliminate as much as possible from your to-do list. You can’t do everything on your to-do list. Even if you could, more things will come up. As much as you can, simplify your to-do list down to the essentials. This allows you to rush less and focus more on what’s important.
  6. Now, slow down and enjoy every task. This is the most important tip in this article. Read it twice. Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s a work task or taking a shower or brushing your teeth or cooking dinner or driving to work, slow down. Try to enjoy whatever you’re doing. Try to pay attention, instead of thinking about other things. Be in the moment. This isn’t easy, as you will often forget. But find a way to remind yourself. Unless the task involves actual pain, there isn’t anything that can’t be enjoyable if you give it the proper attention.
  7. Single-task. This is kind of a mantra of mine, as I talk about how to single-task all the time. But it’s an important point for me, and for this article. Do one thing at a time, and do it well.
  8. Eat more slowly. This is just a more specific application of Tip #6, but it’s something we do every day, so it deserves special attention.
  9. Drive more slowly. Another application of the same principle, driving is something we do that’s often mindless and rushed. Instead, slow down and enjoy the journey. yoga restorative practice Savasana or Corpse Pose, resting after practice a place of contentment
  10. Eliminate stress. Find the stressors in your life, and find ways to eliminate them.
  11. Create time for solitude. In addition to slowing down and enjoying the tasks we do, and doing fewer of them, it’s also important to just have some time to yourself.
  12. Do nothing. Sometimes, it’s good to forget about doing things and do nothing.
  13. Sprinkle simple pleasures throughout your day. Knowing your simple pleasures and putting a few of them in each day can go a long way to making life more enjoyable.
  14. Practice being present. You can practice being in the moment at any time during the day.
  15. Find inspirations. You don’t have to go looking for inspiration. There are plenty of them in your life right now. Think friends, family, partners, children, and companion animals.
  16. Make frugality an enjoyable thing too. Instead of delayed gratification, try enjoying life now while saving for later.
Reprinted with permission from Leo Babauta/Zen Habits.
Leo Babauta

Zen Habits is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. It has over a million readers.

My name is Leo Babauta. I live in Northern California with my wife and our two teenage kids (we have 4 adult kids, for a total of six!), where I eat vegan food, write, run, and read.

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