Santosha – contentment – is perhaps the most psychologically relevant niyama (Bennett, 2002). With contentment in the present moment, reassurance from other people, material things, and goal-oriented measures of success are not necessary in order to feel complete and satisfied. This is not the immediate satiation of a specific desire or yearning; it is a consistent feeling of comfort in knowing that happiness can only come from within (Bennett; Buttenheim, 2003-2004). Since outside influences are merely perceptions, only relationship with oneself shows true contentment. This does not mean pretending not to need others or feel emotionally sensitive to outside influences; emotions are difficult, and trying to avoid this difficulty will hinder true contentment. Paying attention to all emotions and accepting them as part of the struggle, while bringing the self back and knowing no one else can satisfy it is true happiness (Bennett; Buttenheim, 2003-2004). To feel content with oneself and the present situation is to accept the self and surrounding world, which is the epitome of well-being and mind/body health.

This is an excerpt from my own dissertation. Alas, I know I’m a pretty good therapist and writer, but I not as good at my personal life as I’d like. That is to say, I can’t take my own advice. My dissertation isn’t about contentment; it’s actually about adolescent girls who practice yoga. In writing it however, I got intense enjoyment out of describing the yogic yamas and niyamas, or beliefs and guidelines to base your life on. They are both basic and wonderful – asteya, which means “non-stealing,” reminds you that jealousy and coveting are in fact ways of taking away from the experiences of others. Saucha suggests that you purify your thoughts before allowing them to overtake your mind and ripple into your beliefs, actions and therefore your happiness. I always aim to live by these guidelines, and in spirit, I do, but in my own behaviors, it’s a struggle.

NIne years ago I met one of the great loves of my life at Animal Services, and named her Santosha. I thought if the kitty I curled up with every night carried this name, I would remember to aim for contentment. She embodies it for sure, lying in one delicious spot for hours on end, seeking out the spot under the covers where I she can curl into my arms and purr. I named my cat Santosha as a symbol of what I want my life to be.

I’m definitely content in my daily, hourly life, but not so much in the big picture. I usually bounce out of bed, I’m energetic and inspired at work, I love my evening workout and J and I spend pretty much every night enjoying dinner, good conversation and our time together. We meet friends for dinner, go for sunny jogs, go to the beach, hike, and have our separate hobbies. The place where I get stuck in discontentedness, where people have actually referred to me as a malcontent, is in the big picture.

There are messages that run over and over in my head – I’m not married yet and everyone else is because my relationship history (before J) was erratic, and it’s my fault. Most people my age own a house with a yard and nice furniture, but I don’t. Spending all of my money and adult life thus far getting my doctorate and license was too hard, I deserve more. I’ve made a mistake in moving away from my family and I may never get to spend my daily life with my sister, which I regret every single day. Nothing ever feels quite right when I reflect on the big picture. It seems like I’ve made decisions I can’t go back on, like not living near my family, and when I think about it, I feel old, like at 35 I should have gotten farther, figured out where I want to “settle down,” saved more money.

I want to be happy. I’ve read highly acclaimed books on happiness, I’m an expert in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, I run mindfulness groups. As a teenager I was upbeat and carefree, before the world dragged me down enough times that I became jaded. So why can’t I say to myself, wow, I have a successful career, the most amazing partner I could ever have imagined, and so much to look forward to? WHY??

I’m not saying I’m unhappy. Not quite feeling contented isn’t the same thing as being unhappy. I enjoy my daily life, I have good solid family relationships, a partner I admire and never get enough of, a job I like going to every day that pays well. I’m just saying that I always want more, and I compare myself to others.

This especially happens with babies, the way it used to happen with weddings. For several years I yearned to get married and sat through many beautiful weddings, wondering when I would get my turn. I got engaged and started planning a wedding I thought was going to be romantic, run and meaningful, a wedding that never happened. Now I understand how true it is that weddings, and marriage in general, although legally useful and often successful, isn’t necessary for me. I’ve moved past it. Now babies plague my psyche. Why do so many women get accidentally pregnant and deliver one healthy baby after another, while I pined after the idea for years, finally got my chance, and had a miscarriage? I see pregnant women and mothers everywhere now, after years of barely noticing them. Before this year they reminded me that I may never get the chance to be a mother. Now that J and I were pregnant, they remind me that I lost my little nugget.

Why don’t I look at pregnancy and babies and see the hope for my own happy future? Why don’t I see beautiful houses and think, Oh, I can’t wait until J and have our home? What makes us notice the bad things more than the good? I know it’s part of the human condition to fear more than feel safe, to be on guard more than to relax, to defend ourselves more than be humble. I guess that is the reason that in our society, we always want more. We need to prove that we’re going to be okay, to ourselves and each other. That’s also why mindfulness, self-care and contentment are hot topics in psychology today; we must fight for our happiness.

I’m going to keep fighting for my happiness because I know it’s a reachable goal. I have everything I need to feel content, and I know how to discipline my mind to remember that. I’m lucky in more ways than unlucky, and I’ll benefit from allowing myself to feel that way instead of feeling slighted or inadequate. I meet a lot of strong, intelligent women who forget that their lives are positive and fulfilling. As neurotic, self-indulgent and negative as I can be, I hope to make these coming months happy; I hope to be able to relate to one of my best friends, Santosha.

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