How to be content in turbulent times

If you were asked to choose one word to describe the times we live in, what would it be? You could say stressful, intense or exhausting, all true, sure.

As for me, I go with the adjective “turbulent.” If you have ever flown in an airplane that encountered turbulence, you are familiar with the meaning of the word. As the plane lurches and plunges into bad weather, his adrenaline spikes, his stomach lurches, and his heart pounds.

That is an accurate description of what most of us have experienced in recent years as we have endured the chaos caused by the pandemic, political turmoil, and social unrest.

Let’s add another word to this discussion that we desperately need in these turbulent times: satisfaction. This is the quality of inner peace, calm and serenity that keeps us grounded through jarring ups and downs. Is it really possible to experience contentment amid the uncertainty and turmoil of modern life? Absolutely!

As a mental health professional for 35 years, I have counseled thousands of people struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, and many other afflictions. Those who were willing to invest in the healing process experienced a deep satisfaction that they had not experienced before.

Two fundamental points are essential to understand.

First, contentment is an inside job. Many people yearn for inner peace but don’t get it because they are looking in the wrong places. If you are looking for something external, outside of yourself, to bring satisfaction, you will be looking forever. True contentment has nothing to do with what you have or don’t have; the proof is in the fact that unhappy people are found at every rung of the economic ladder and in every job, investment portfolio, and collection of possessions. Genuine contentment has a lot to do with emotional and spiritual well-being. It comes from within you, always.

Second, contentment is a learned skill. Ever since I grew up in a scripture-reading home, I have always admired the perspective shared by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11-12:

“I have learned to be happy whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have much. I have learned the secret of being content in each and every situation, whether I am well fed or hungry, whether I live in plenty or in misery.”

We can learn to be content in all things, no matter what degree of turbulence we encounter. All of us are born into this world needy and demanding, and many people remain that way throughout their lives. But content people understand that well-being and contentment stem from the choices we make and the lessons we learn.

Let’s look at specific ways we can all learn to achieve contentment.

practice gratitude

Gratitude is the antidote to everything toxic that comes into our lives. Simply put, gratitude fosters optimism, hope, and resilience. That’s why it’s hard to imagine a more powerful cure-all than choosing to be constantly grateful.

Summarizing the results of a long-term study investigating the effects of daily gratitude, researchers at Harvard Medical School said: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with increased happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, enjoy good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Gratitude has a way of multiplying exponentially: the more you choose to be grateful, the more you will find to be grateful for. An attitude of gratitude opens the door to experience the fullness of life and develop a heart of peace. Take a close look at the countless good things you enjoy but tend to overlook. Take time to intentionally cultivate gratitude and watch it improve everything in your life.

Participate in rewarding activities

Experiencing discontent can cause you to forget about activities that used to bring you relaxation and joy. A big part of healthy self-care is continuing your life activities and efforts that make you strong.

Take a moment to identify and write down five activities that bring you joy. Are you going to a movie? Lunch with friends? Spending a day at the museum, zoo, park or golf course? Then start scheduling these activities. Maintaining your enjoyment is not selfish; it is vital to your well-being.

vintage photo
It is important to spend time on activities that are rewarding and bring you relaxation and joy. (Biba Kayewitch)

get support

Feeling unhappy can make you feel isolated and alone. But all around you are a wide variety of people eager to share your journey. Studies have shown that social support can help you build resilience against stress and give you practical ideas for dealing with heartbreak and disappointment.

Feel free to reach out to a close friend, counselor, or mentor for ongoing help and mutual support. People like this can also refer you to relevant resources and groups that allow members to voice their concerns and encourage one another. Supportive relationships give you a healthy outlet to process your emotions and strengthen you for the challenges ahead.

Imagine your best possible self

For the next two weeks, spend 15 minutes every day thinking about, writing about, and considering your ideal future. Reflect on your goals and dreams, and visualize everything turning out to be the best situation. Then spend another five minutes visualizing this best future life as vividly as you can, in great detail.

This exercise is more than just a feel-good pep talk; you will be retraining your mind and redirecting your thoughts. A study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry showed that this exercise increased participants’ levels of optimism.

vintage photo
One study found that spending 15 minutes a day considering their ideal future increased participants’ levels of optimism. (Biba Kayewitch)

direct your thoughts

What goes on in your head is inevitably and irrefutably reflected in your actions, attitudes, and ambitions.

Your thoughts, the messages you tell yourself every second of every day, deeply and powerfully determine every other aspect of your life. What you tell yourself about yourself can radically influence your happiness, relationships, career, parenting, mental health, and physical well-being.

This presents a good news/bad news scenario: If your thoughts are consistently affirming, optimistic, and constructive, your life is sure to move in a positive direction. But if your thoughts are consistently critical, pessimistic, and destructive, your life will move in a negative direction.

practice forgiveness

Holding on to pain is toxic to the heart and soul. Forgiving someone who has wronged you is never easy, but getting through the process removes a major roadblock on your path to contentment.

People who seek advice at the clinic I run are often surprised when we ask them about broken or bitter relationships in their lives. They fail to see the link between their mental anguish and their unresolved conflicts with others. But our experience has dispelled any doubt that holding onto emotional offenses and wounds is an effective (and unfortunate) way of punishing oneself. Forgiveness brings you freedom.

A growing body of social science research demonstrates the physical and mental health benefits of forgiveness.

“Whether you’ve suffered a minor slight or a major wrong, learning to forgive those who hurt you can significantly improve both your psychological well-being and physical health,” reads an article published by the American Psychological Association. “Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, depression, and major psychiatric disorders, as well as fewer physical health symptoms and lower mortality rates.”

Optimize your optimism

A state of contentment is really a state of mind. It is a way of seeing the world and circumstances. One of the main determinants of this state of mind is learning to be optimistic. In a pessimistic and negative world, this can be a challenge.

Fortunately, we all have access to hope and can choose hope as our predominant approach to life. This is the mental and emotional framework that sustains contentment, even when the winds of negativity blow over it. An optimistic outlook allows you to live above your circumstances.

Do you know someone whose attitude is amazing, even though they’ve been through terrible things? Do you know someone whose well-being seems impervious to life’s challenges? These optimists have one thing in common: they make a daily decision to look for the good in life, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

You too can make the decision to live contentedly, every moment of every day.

Leave a Comment