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Writing My Way to Contentment

In an effort to stay present to all the really great things in her life, Erica Rodefer Winters has started a happiness journal. It's working.

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Many of the yamas and niyamas, or ethical guidelines of yoga, seem like no-brainers. We all know we shouldn’t try to harm others, lie, or steal. But when it comes to contentment, or santosha, I really struggle. I think it’s because I was brought up to believe anything is possible if I just work harder, set goals, and never give up. It’s an inspirational idea to shoot for the stars, but always striving to accomplish more, have more, and be more can be pretty exhausting—and I’ve noticed it stands in the way of truly appreciating the many blessings I have right now.


I know I’m not alone. I listen to friends talk about how everything would be better if they could just find a partner, get a new job, or lose 10 pounds. I sometimes watch TV shows where house hunters meander through houses trying to find the biggest, nicest home they can afford. In yoga classes I notice as students’ eyes wander from their own mats toward the person with the deepest backbend in the room (I guess my eyes were wandering, too, if I could notice this).

In a culture that glorifies more, more, more, it’s challenging to be OK with what is. But I know that I’d be happier if I could just stop striving and enjoy the now. But how?

Asana and meditation certainly help. I’ve also spent a lot of time experimenting with various forms of journaling. I’ve kept a gratitude journal, a worthwhile exercise where I realized I wrote the same things every day and I felt ungrateful if I didn’t fill page after page each time. I’ve written down my daily intentions, which sometimes turned into to-do lists. Both have helped me to get to know myself a little better, but neither have been as effective at finding more contentment as my newest journaling endeavor—a daily happiness log.

Each day before I go to bed, I sit down and try to recall the one happiest moment of my day. I allow myself one line on my ruled paper notebook to express the moment (because I know I need to keep it short if I’m going to do it every day). At the end of each week or whenever I’m feeling down, I read what I’ve written, re-living each happy moment one by one. It always brings a smile to my face. I look for themes—things that make me happy time and time again, such as listening to my daughter laugh—and I know these are the things on which I should focus my energy.

One of the loveliest parts of this exercise is that when I’m keeping the journal, I know I’m going to need to write something down at the end of the day so I start to really look for the happy moments. I realize that I make mental notes of a lot of happy times throughout the course of the day. I’m starting to feel more contentment in this beautiful life I’m living. It doesn’t mean that I stop working toward my goals. It just means that even if I never reach them, I can still slow down and be happy with where I am right now.

Do you struggle with contentment? What helps you?

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