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Cultivating Contentment

How to regain control of your life with three simple habits.

At my old university I had a goal. I knew just what I needed to do to accomplish it. Most of my time and effort was spent working in that direction. But I wasn’t happy. So, I dropped out. And thus, I lost a structure that I was just beginning to get used to.

Flash forward to a year and I finally feel content with the direction that my life is going in; more productive and clearer sighted in my goals. By following these 3 steps, you can be too.


What are these practices?

Gratitude, goal setting and intentions are the three practices that will enhance your life. By targeting and organising the heart, mind and body you will feel an increased sense of productivity and contentment.

To reap the benefits of these practices, you have to be patient. Results cannot be expected immediately. Each practice does require consistency and commitment but it is worth it to regain control and watch your life transform.



What is it? Gratitude is an active practice for the heart and a task that should be performed daily. This activity can take as little as 3 minutes or as long as you would like. As a result of this, it is an easy technique to implement into your life as everyone has 3 minutes to spare. For me, I engage with it for around 3 minutes every morning. Using this practice right before you sleep or when you wake up is most beneficial. This practice is targeted at the heart in order to increase a sense of contentment and emotional mastery. This is because by recognising what you do have, your mind is forced to focus on more positive emotions, such as satisfaction and optimism.

Dr Robert A. Emmons a leading gratitude researcher has found that keeping a gratitude diary daily for 3 weeks had profound effects on the general mental well-being of participants, including optimism for the day and upcoming week.

How does it work? In my experience by starting out every morning with gratitude practice I am able to start the day feeling clear headed and satisfied. No matter the circumstance I am able to start out with a refreshed feeling. In times of low spirits, looking over my bullet point list of over 300 reasons for gratitude I feel my spirits lift. This practice includes simply thinking about 1–3 things for which you are grateful. This is an active practice however, meaning that you must engage with these factors. There are several ways in which you can do so:

  • Dr Julie Smith suggests that you visualise the thing that you are grateful for. You hold this in your mind and immerse yourself in its positivity.

  • You could also do what I do, which is keep a list on your phone of all the things you are grateful for. This can be done gradually, writing down one point every morning.


Goal Setting

What is it? Goal setting is what can be used as motivation. This is because it is what gets us up and ready to work to what we want to achieve. No matter what the goals are, it is so important to have them written down. By having a clear guide of what exactly you want to accomplish in life, you will feel more determined to achieve something towards that every single day.

A biological process called ‘encoding’ is when information we perceive is taken to the hippocampus in the brain, here the brain decides which information to transfer to the long-term memory and which information to discard. By writing down our goals we improve this process of encoding as the perceived information is more likely to be recalled. Therefore, we will be more likely to work on it. In addition to this according to Locke and Lathan(2006) just setting goals are linked with higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy.

How does it work? Whether you would prefer to have in depth SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals, or just simple ones- that is completely up to you. The way that I do this is as follows:

  • I started by writing down 10 goals and highlighting them according to category. These categories included educational, religious, personal goals and several others.

  • Every month I review these goals, ticking off any that I have accomplished and adding another 2–5 goals.

  • In moments in which I feel that I am doing nothing, I take a look at my goals and see what I can do in that moment to work towards it or to complete it.

  •  These goals can be as simple or as extravagant as you like, it is all about giving yourself a boost of motivation to be working towards something.


Intention allocating

What is it? The practice of setting intentions is for the mind, it will become the driving force for your actions. This is because our motives for particular behaviours and actions are clarified in our mind. By focusing on why you are doing things, you will allow yourself to work harder to excel in them. This clarity is essential in our sense of fulfilment and effectiveness in our actions and behaviours.

Deepak Chopra, American-Indian actor and alternative medicines advocate says:  ‘An intention is a directed impulse of consciousness that contains the seed form of that which you aim to create.’

This sums up why exactly it is important to set intentions. Chopra summarises metaphorically that by setting an intention to do something we create the foundations of it. We give our actions and behaviours meaning and the conscious awareness of that brings it to life.

For example, imagine you wanted to organise a fundraiser for Cancer Research. Doing so, this action is meaningless without the intention. If you didn’t intend to make a difference to those suffering, what is the reason for the fundraiser?

What Chopra eludes to, and what I am trying to explain is that by being conscious of the fact that you want to make a difference to those suffering you bring the fundraiser into action. You now have the motivation to make a difference because you know exactly why you are doing it.

Thus, our actions are still valid when we are not fully conscious of the intentions. However, in increasing awareness of our intentions we achieve clarity and greater effectiveness.

Though sometimes it may be hard to find , every action should have an intention behind it. This will help you in identifying which actions are worth prioritising- not those without strong intentions behind them. For example, every morning you may pick up your phone and check social media- the intention behind this may be to keep yourself updated with other people’s lives. However, something more beneficial to you could take precedence in that time. For example, gratitude practice could be prioritised here instead. By tracking and allocating intentions we can organise our time and priorities as well as motivating ourselves to keep going.


Ready to start your journey to contentment…

The three practices to follow are:

Gratitude: reminding yourself of your blessings.

Goal setting: highlighting what you are striving towards.

Intentions: remembering the reasons behind your actions.

Having these clear in your mind, by writing them down or even just making time to acknowledge them WILL help you get closer to contentment.


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