Six Simple Steps to Contentment

One of the things I’ve personally struggled with, and I’m sure others have as well, is being content with one’s life. Not only do I frequently find myself wanting material things, like a new car, but I also frequently feel that something is missing from my life – something I can’t quite wrap my mind around.

Some might argue that the lack of contentment is just the nature of a human being, and that it’s a good thing because it pushes one to excel and be prosperous, but I don’t necessarily agree with that notion. After all there are plenty of very rich and successful people in the world that are dissatisfied with their lives, and plenty of poor people that are perfectly content.

Contentment is encouraged in the Teachings of the Baha’i Faith, for instance in one of The Persian Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, He says:

O QUINTESSENCE OF PASSION! Put away all covetousness and seek contentment; for the covetous hath ever been deprived, and the contented hath ever been loved and praised.

I feel that I should be content, after all I live in a great country, I have a career I love, and I am surrounded by wonderful friends and family. So what is it that I’m yearning for, and what can I do to find my own inner peace and contentment?

I’ve listed six simple things which have helped me personally, and maybe they can help you too:

1. Pray for detachment

Baha’u’llah writes in The Hidden Words:

O SON OF BEING! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.

In this quote God describes us as “perfect” and that within us we have the “essence of My light”. He implies that we already have within us everything that we need to be happy. So why do we want? Perhaps a better question is what should we want for ourselves? Baha’u’llah writes again in the Hidden Words:

O SON OF SPIRIT! Ask not of Me that which We desire not for thee, then be content with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself.

So we should want what God wants for us, meaning ‘God’s Will’, because He knows what we need better than we do.

2. Be thankful

Sometimes it takes a serious illness or other tragic event to jar people into appreciating the good things in their lives. Don’t wait for something like that to happen to you.

Research has shown that people that are the happiest are people that are the most appreciative of what they have. Regarding thankfulness, Abdu’l-Baha quotes the Quran in a letter:

O thou kind friend… Man must, under all conditions, be thankful to God, the One, for it is said in the blessed text: “If ye be thankful I will increase thee [in favor].”

When should we be thankful though? Only when things are going well? Baha’ullah writes in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf:

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity.

But why does Baha’u’llah want us to be thankful when things are not going well? It seems counterintuitive, does it not? Abdu’l-Baha explains this in a talk given to the homeless of New York City in 1912:

You must be thankful to God that you are poor, for Jesus Christ has said, “Blessed are the poor.” He never said, “Blessed are the rich.” He said, too, that the Kingdom is for the poor and that it is easier for a camel to enter a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom. Therefore, you must be thankful to God that although in this world you are indigent, yet the treasures of God are within your reach; and although in the material realm you are poor, yet in the Kingdom of God you are precious.

3. Be obedient to God’s laws

One thing I’ve come to appreciate as an adult is the fact that Baha’u’llah’s laws and the high standard of moral conduct that He expects us to uphold are there to make our lives easier and happier.

Baha’u’llah wrote laws that forbid us from doing things which are potentially harmful, and He commands us to do things which are positive and beneficial. For example, laws against drugs and alcohol are in place to protect us from ourselves and the dangers of addiction and recklessness. The law prohibiting backbiting is in place to protect us from destroying friendships and causing disunity.

The laws of obligatory prayer and fasting are in place to help us grow spiritually. Much like a loving parent tells their child do certain tasks and chores for their own good, God asks us to perform certain tasks for our own spiritual well-being.

In Words of Wisdom, Baha’u’llah informs us:

The source of all good is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment with His holy will and pleasure… The source of all glory is acceptance of whatsoever the Lord hath bestowed, and contentment with that which God hath ordained.

4. Devote time to improve your relationships with family and friends

People that are accustomed to big city life usually have trouble understanding why some people love living in small towns and villages as they say there’s “nothing to do there”. In small towns however, people are more than often surrounded by the friends and family that they love, and so they are quite content living in a small town “with nothing to do”, just as they would be in a big city surrounded by those same friends and family. Good relationships with one’s family and friends can greatly improve one’s level of happiness and contentment no matter where we live.

Furthermore, getting married, although not a prerequisite to finding contentment, and nor is it mandatory, but a good marriage can be an amazingly positive spiritual relationship that can result in contentment.

Baha’u’llah refers to marriage as “a fortress for well-being”, and Abdu’l-Baha also writes:

The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other. If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favour in the Kingdom of heaven.

5. Develop a sense of purpose

People who strive to meet a goal or fulfil a mission — whether it’s growing a garden, caring for children or finding one’s spirituality — are typically more content than those who don’t have such aspirations.

In addition to the above, finding an occupation that one enjoys can certainly develop a sense of purpose. In The Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah takes the importance of an occupation one step further:

O people of Baha! It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation—such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God.

6. Help others

This is probably one of the most important steps of them all!

In the Writings of the Faith, service to humanity is often used in reference to the mission of Baha’is working to bring about peace on earth, and Abdu’l-Baha makes it clear that much like prayer, service to humanity draws us closer to God:

…service in love for mankind is unity with God. He who serves has already entered the Kingdom and is seated at the right hand of his Lord.

But helping others also has a positive and transformative effect on the person doing the act of service. Shoghi Effendi explains:

The power of God can entirely transmute our characters and make of us beings entirely unlike our previous selves. Through…ever-increasing service to His Faith, we can change ourselves.1

Furthermore, in a Pilgrim note taken from a German Baha’i in 1910, it was written that Abdu’l-Baha said the following:

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you.2

I hope you’ve found these six simple steps to contentment useful, and I’d really like to hear about any of the steps you may have taken or currently use in the ‘Comments’ section below.

  1. Shoghi Effendi, Spiritual Foundations, p. 17 []
  2. The Research Department has found that these words were attributed to Abdu’l-Baha in an unpublished English translation of notes in German by Dr. Josephine Fallscheer taken on 5 August 1910. As the statement is a pilgrim note, it cannot be authenticated. []

About the Author

Shahed is a physician specializing in radiation oncology from the United States currently residing in Switzerland. His interests are the interplay between spirituality and health, Baha'i history, traveling, and sports.

Discussion 11 Comments

  1. Hi, I appreciate you giving some thought to the condition of, contentment. I have some thoughts on that. I feel it’s a simple matter of finding peace with what we have. To use the new car as an example: We All want a new car….but with it comes more activity (mental and physical) in the research and the details of the search, learning, instructions on the best make, model, year, which breeds even more mental activity…not to mention the physical search to find it. So to be content is to appreciate the car we have and even be grateful for it. Take some time to love it again for what it is and how it serves us…and put aside the desire for a new one for later, another time. When we can rest easy and appreciate again the car we already have, we are content. Warning: it may not last too long…ha! but we could do the same exercise again….

    I have to also say, I really appreciate the issue you addressed with the Writings on Mediation recently. I had just decided to start practicing a more formal mediation again after learning the TM method in college many years ago. My practice got lost with a marriage and children, but I always intended to return to it. Having retired, it was on my list of things to do to have more contentment myself. I also shared your offering of the Writings with another friend who had just retired and he was concerned that the method I use agree with the Baha’i writings. Because of your research he found there is no conflict so he is now practicing with all the others of us meditating again.
    So thanks. I’ll look forward to your next blog subject.

  2. I also enjoyed this, though it comes with the frequent lament of this long-time-tryer on the Baha’i road: “but I already know all THIS.” But of course, I don’t, not really, or I would not remain the often restless spirit that I am. As Shahed alludes — and I might go a little farther than him in this regard — there are times when a lack of contentment is what motivates us to change, to improve, to redeem a social ill. Perhaps Shahed might argue that it’s not the *lack* of contentment that is important, but rather the positive “strain every nerve” commitment to excellence and service to which we are called. I concede the point, but find I often have trouble telling the difference! For many of us, though, that call to such noble heights of humane commitment can easily fall into self-criticism, or vain feelings of guilt. Who needs or wants that? Certainly not Baha’is. At any rate, this short and manageable list, and its collection of encouraging support from the Writings, is good medicine even if it is familiar, and perhaps because it is so familiar, I’m making some progress. Good! Knowing the Faith and living it are two very different things.

    One thing that was new to me was the pilgrim’s note quoted toward the end of the piece. It’s a lovely concept, a practical notion, especially given ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s tacit acknowledgement that there are times when we can’t quite get to useful prayer because our emotions are too tangled or too blue. I’ve been there. Though it is not bankable Scripture, it certainly reinforces the idea of service, of work, as worship of God. What a great prescription for actively breaking free of “slavery” to our moods, or our mental ruts, or our misfortunes, or our personal history. Thanks for sharing this particular passage, and for the whole collection of “medicine for melancholy” (as Ray Bradbury titled a book, and a recent film has it).

  3. I’m thankful that spiritual progress is a never ending journey. I always have something to look forward to, like a constant present to be unwrapped. I always reflect on how far I’ve come and how I felt when I was wishing to get to my present position. It does make me thankful and I realize just from what I can see, that so much has been given to help me. I know there is so much I do not see, in this world and elsewhere. That is where I get my faith and hope. I do get everything I ask for, and when I think that I haven’t, I get information in its place that shows me why something I asked for wasn’t good for me. I’m thankful all over again.

    Recently I was tested with something I thought I wanted. It was perfectly the way I asked. The moment it was time to accept, I turned it down, because the “me of yesterday” wanted that, not the present me. It was scary because I almost felt spoiled or blasphemous, but I know myself enough to know that my happiness and stimulation wouldn’t last, those things are more important. Better yet, my real happiness overrode my greed, which means I’m growing. That makes me happy. I learned some more about sacrifice and it felt wonderful!

  4. I have been thinking about the relationship between contentment and detachment, so very much welcomed your posting here. Thank you. Any additional quotations from the Writings on this relationship would be very welcome.

  5. Great advice of course, and to which one might usefully add the ability to contribute artistically and creatively.
    You should all read my book “Seeking Contentment”.
    Well, OK, I’ll share its complete contents:
    “Seek contentment.”

    The challenge of course is to commit oneself to seeking contentment, for all the advice above counts for naught unless you are prepared to take it.
    Seek out small ways to do each of the above, and as you grow in confidence, increase the scope. Contentment is found in small things done well, not grandiose things done half-well.
    And make a list of tasks, and each time, no matter how mundane, tick them off when completed: few things give you confidence and encouragement as those little ticks.

  6. You know, I was never a contented person, always wanted more, the “when I’ve reached such and such a stage in my live, then I’ll be happy” type. Well, I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer and for the first time in my life, I’m happy. Why? Because I am finally able to let go, put my whole trust in God, and abide with joy with whatever He has in store for me – although, I must admit, it took some doing to get to this point. But what a relief to do so. Why couldn’t I have done this sooner? We do love to complicate our lives don’t we.

  7. Thank you for this beautiful article. I’m sending it to my children.

    God willing, our implementation of these principles will improve with time.

    But maybe joy really boils down to daily REMEMBRANCE of the Divine Spark animating us.

    On the way home, I thought of God while watching the sun burn through dense fogs shrouding the Twin Peaks – so warm, beautiful, gentle and relentless.

    The scene evoked thoughts of how the Sun of Truth inexorably dispels dark clouds that envelop my soul whenever I reject God’s Way.

    And that thought transformed my morning. I was filled with more joy and peace than I had felt in long time!

    So maybe these feelings are always accessible if we simply take time to REMEMBER that we are God’s children:

    “O SON OF BEING! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.” (Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words)

    I am deeply grateful that God never gave up on me and granted us technology to access a beautiful global community of precious Souls seeking Truth.

    (Hope I don’t forget this tomorrow . . . or later today ☺)

    Allah’u’Abha my friends!

      1. Thank you, Sonjel. Just “randomly” found this article again and saw your reply. Hope you are well and happy – content today. 🙂 Russ

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