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Real Joy, Right Now

Do you often hear yourself saying, "When such and such happens, then I'll be happy"? Why wait for happiness when it's available to you right now, at this moment?

By Sally Kempton

Step Three: Accept What Is

Every one of the world's great wisdom traditions contains a prescription for shifting dissatisfaction to contentment, and every one contains basically the same message. Whether you read the Stoics and Epicureans of Greece, the Tao Te Ching, the teachings of the Buddha, Indian texts like the Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita, or St. Paul's kick-ass Letter to the Corinthians, you'll discover that the bottom-line practice for contentment is to give up wanting what you don't already have and learn how to accept what you cannot change. Here's how Swami Hariharananda put it in his commentary on the Yoga Sutra: "Just as to escape from thorns it is necessary only to wear shoes and not to cover the face of the earth with leather, so happiness can be derived from [the practice of] contentment and not from thinking that I shall be happy when I get all I wish for."

Try experimenting with this yogic affirmation: Breathe in and think to yourself, "What I have is enough." Breathe out and think, "What I am is enough." Breathe in and think, "What I do is enough." Breathe out and think, "What I've achieved is enough." Repeat this cycle for several minutes, paying special attention to the feelings that arise along the way. Become aware of both the feelings of peace and the feelings of resistance that might come up. If you're like most contemporary Americans, some part of you is going to have a series of doubts: "Yes, this is a nice exercise, but what about my dreams and wishes? What about that skirt I have my eye on at Banana Republic? What about my calling to do something about preserving the environment and help farm workers get a living wage? How am I supposed to be content if I don't accomplish all that?" In short, you may find yourself wondering if this practice isn't just an invitation to goof off, a justification for social inequity, or a consolation prize for losers.

Yet the practice of contentment is not for wimps. Not only does it require a willingness to accept yourself and your situation, but it also demands that you be willing to change yourself in ways that may be uncomfortable precisely because they are so freeing.

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Reader Comments

joan kushner

why do you think that taking prozac gives one 'contenment'? it's simply not true.

shirley knudsen

Tjhank you for giving me some hope with your amazing article "Real Joy Right Now".
I am in a terribly dark place right now .Instead of my boys leaving "the nest" I had to leave my 3 teenage sons to follow my husband up the "corporate ladder to another town 200 miles away. Having just arrived my mother died suddenly of a heart attack, my brother died shortly after of bowel cancer and a short time my husband was out on his mountain bike and had a massive heart attack and died instantly. I didn't even get to say "good-bye to him". My 3 sons all live far away and I feel very alone.
I will work through what you have written and thank you once again for giving me hope.

Shirley Knudsen


What a fitting article. I claimed bankruptcy and lost my job all in one year and I am about to go on social assistance, if I qualify. As weird as it sounds, I am even afraid to say I am at peace. It is as if the universe gave me an opportunity to start over again and this time to make things right. I feel a sense of contentment at the moment, however, can only imagine a small voice in my head saying "how can you be so calm?" I respond to it by saying the universe shall provide.

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