“If the last five years have taught me anything, it’s that being content in your twenties isn’t easy. And unfortunately they don’t give you a manual on how to be content with your degree when you graduate. “– Jessa Marie
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It’s probably because I’ve been in quarantine the last two weeks, and that usually makes me really introspective, but I’ve started thinking about this topic a lot lately.
I’ve also been listening to Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, where she reflects on her life and seasons of her own discontentment, and what helped her to feel alive again. It’s an amazing book by the way, and you should really check it out if you haven’t already.
Anyways, all of these things have made me reflect on why I’m not content, what that actually means, and I guess what needs to change in my life, so I can be content.
Because we as humans aren’t programmed to naturally feel that way. It’s something we constantly have to work towards.
What does it mean to be content?
The dictionary defines contentment as a state of happiness and complete satisfaction.
When I think about what it means to be content in my life, the phrase wants for nothing comes to mind. Meaning, if I was truly content, I wouldn’t want or need anything else. So I guess the dictionary is right because I would be completely satisfied with what I have.
There are definitely moments in life where I felt content, but I can’t say I always feel that way.
If you’ve ever watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there’s a scene where Emma Watson’s character holds out her arms while she’s standing up through the car roof. Charlie is narrating, and he says, “and in that moment I swear we were infinite.”
I feel like that’s how I feel in those moments of contentment.
You know when it’s the end of a perfect day with your friends, and you just stop and take in how grateful you are for them and this moment. It feels like nothing could beat that feeling. Those are my moments of contentment; of being infinite.
What does a content life look like?
It’s not easy to be content all the time because, well, we’re only human. Honestly, we’re probably only content for a moment and then we immediately go back to worrying about every little thing or thinking about what we should buy next. And it’s not like those are bad things to do, but they usually don’t bring us the peace of mind we want.
Sometimes I literally wake up worrying about my to do list and how it’s going to get done. And then I roll over and reach for my phone to scroll through social media, where there is never a shortage of ads telling me what I absolutely need to have next.
Ads have gotten really good at playing with our emotions. I don’t know if you notice this too. Some ads literally start with, “have you ever worried about…” and if I wasn’t worried before, I most definitely am worried about whatever it is now.
So what does a content life look like in this age of screens and uncertainty? Is it possible for your life to meet the dictionary definition of contentment all the time? Can you be happy and satisfied always?
When I think of a content life, I don’t think of someone who is always happy. No, I actually think of someone who is always grateful. Someone with a content life, is satisfied with what he or she has because they want for nothing.
When you’re content, you’re usually focused on what’s right in front of you, on what you already have. You’re not constantly thinking about the future, and everything that needs to be done tomorrow. You’re not thinking about all the things you still don’t have. No, you’re completely present and attentive to the people and things in your life right now. You’re present.
Can you lead a content life and still be ambitious?
I don’t believe being content means you lack ambition. Just because you focus on being present, doesn’t mean you can’t still go after what you want in life.
I think you can be content and go after your dreams at the same time. Just like how you can chase after your dreams desperately because you’re not satisfied with where your life currently is. Both mindsets exist, and the one you choose to live with is up to you.
The difference is that when you’re content and working hard to achieve your dream, you don’t feel incomplete during that time. You’re not obsessing over the fact that you’re not where you’re supposed to be yet, or worried that you’ll never get there. You’re happy where you are in each moment along the journey.
It’s like you’re running a race, but enjoying every step. You’re not worried about getting to the finish line or that someone will beat you to it. You’re just running and you know you’ll get there eventually.
Is being content and being complacent the same thing?
More often than not our society can equate being content with being complacent. But these two things are definitely not the same. We already know that the dictionary defines contentment as a state of happiness and complete satisfaction.
So let’s look at the definition of complacency. The dictionary defines complacency as:
“a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.”
Cambridge dictionary defines it as:
“a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder.”
So what is the difference between contentment and complacency?
Even though both definitions talk about satisfaction, the definition for complacency comes with negative connotations. It’s like being satisfied is a bad thing when it comes to complacency, whereas with contentment it’s considered a positive.
I look at being complacent as being blissfully unaware of the potential harm your self satisfaction will have on your life or the lives of people around you.
For example, if you’re complacent about your spending habits, and don’t think about how much you spend in comparison to how much you earn, you could be satisfied with your life. But because you’re not thinking about saving, this could negatively affect your future. So even though you’re content in the moment, there is this potential danger hovering over you that you’re choosing to ignore.
I like to define complacency as false contentment. You may be satisfied with the way things are, but it’s only because you’re choosing not to see the whole picture.
Remember when we talked about what a content life looks like, and we said someone who is content with their life is focused on what’s right in front of them? That means they’re focused on everything in front of them; not only the things that bring them immediate satisfaction or make them feel better about themselves.
They choose to see the possible negative consequences of their actions, so they can avoid them and continue to live a content life.
Complacency puts limitations on your life
Let’s look at the second definition of complacency:
“A feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder.”– Cambridge dictionary
The keyword here is prevents, which implies there is some sort of limitation on your life. When I think about living a content life, I don’t think about there being any limitations. I mean if I’m wanting for nothing, it must mean I have everything I need, and that I’m doing the things that bring me joy, including going after my dreams.
Another reason why I consider complacency false contentment, is because even though it seems like you’re satisfied with what you have, it’s only because you’ve given up on what you truly want out of life.
We talked about how being content and ambitious is like running the race and enjoying every step, and not obsessing about getting to the finish line.
Well then being complacent is like not running the race at all, and pretending like you’re okay with it. Or stopping part way through and acting like you’ve finished it. Both give a false sense of satisfaction and the impression that you’re content, when actually you’re just scared.
I know that usually when I get complacent in things, it’s because I’m scared to go after what I actually want. It’s almost like it’s better not to want it than it is to go after it and not get it at all. At least in the first scenario, I can pretend like I never wanted it, and therefore I didn’t lose. I don’t know if you can relate.
Pretty much complacency is you putting limitations on your life and your happiness. It’s a false sense of contentment that can only last so long.
What are the benefits of being content?
So why should you even want to be content? Let’s talk about the benefits of being content.
- First of all, you experience a state of happiness and satisfaction by definition.
- You’re not constantly worried about every little thing, which gives you the sense of peace, you’ve been looking for.
- You’re grateful for what you have, and not thinking about what you should buy next. That’s a huge benefit for you and your wallet.
- You get to enjoy the journey of reaching your goals, instead of constantly obsessing over the fact that you haven’t reached them yet.
- Finally, you get to be present in life. You’re not focused on your past and what you regret, or worried about what’s to come in the future. You’re present in each and every moment of your life.
My personal search for contentment
When it comes to being content in my own life, it’s definitely something I have to work at everyday because I’m a naturally anxious person. It also stems from my upbringing. I’m a worrier by both nature and nurture.
It’s actually what I do best. One of my special skills is having a plan in place for every worst case scenario. It’s how I can appear calm in every situation. Because I’ve already predicted the probability of failure and mapped out the different outcomes in my head, and how I’ll deal with each of them.
I don’t consider it a healthy way of thinking or living, and it’s something I work on constantly, so that I can be content in my own life. Because the bottom line is being content takes work, and what that work looks like depends on who you are.
Personally, I learn how to be content through my faith. I’ve already shared in a previous post that I’m a Christian. So my daily effort to be content starts with prayer and reading my bible. Doing these two things everyday reminds me that I don’t need to worry and that I am taken care of, so that I can be present and content.
But learning how to be content might look different for you. Hopefully, this post will help you find what works for you.
What is keeping you from being content?
If being content is so important, but we still aren’t content, what is actually keeping us from it? Here are some reasons why you aren’t content with life in your twenties:
1. You feel like you’re somehow behind in life.
I’ve talked about this in my post about struggling with confidence, but it’s relevant here too. One of the main reasons you’re not content is that your focus is on meeting society’s expectations of what a successful life is.
Example: Society says you should have your own place and your dream job by this age, and you don’t. Instead of accepting where you’re at and being content with it, you put all of your attention into meeting those expectations. You don’t even stop to question if meeting them will give you the satisfaction you desire.
I know I wrestle with this daily, and it robs me of my peace and my contentment.
2. You still haven’t reached your ultimate goal in life yet.
Maybe it isn’t society telling you what you should want because you already know what that is. But you still haven’t gotten it yet, and you’re starting to question if you ever will.
Maybe it’s the fact that you really want to be married, and you still haven’t found your person yet, and that’s keeping you from being content. It’s hard to feel happy and satisfied when there’s still something you really want out of life.
3. You aren’t at peace with your finances.
So you graduated, and you have a ton of debt, but society is telling you that you should have a car and be saving up to buy a home. Your main focus is getting out of debt and having those financial achievements, and that’s why you can’t be content.
You won’t be satisfied until you reach those goals, but what happens when you do? Won’t there just be something else? At the end of the day the financial goal post keeps moving, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
4. Life feels uncertain, and you’re constantly worrying about the future.
You don’t know how to be content because you can’t predict the future. There are too many uncertainties to worry about, so all of your energy goes into thinking about them, and you miss out on being present.
It’s hard to be content when you focus on things way in the future, instead of enjoying what’s in front of you right now.
5. There are things in your past that you can’t let go of that are keeping you from being present.
Maybe you’re living in the past instead of worrying about the future, but that still keeps you from being present.
Sometimes we hold onto past failures that keep us from enjoying the present. Or we spend our time wishing things would go back to the way they used to be, instead of being grateful for what we have now.
Whatever happened to you in the past has shaped you, and brought you to this point in your life. You owe it to yourself to experience the moment that you’re currently in, instead of using it to relive one from the past.
20 Ways to be Content in your Twenties
So now that we’ve talked about what it means to be content and what’s keeping you from it, let’s get into the practical stuff. Here are 20 ways to be content in your twenties:
- Practice gratitude everyday. Whether that’s for the people in your life or your present situation, be grateful for what you have.
- Stop comparing your life to someone else’s.
- Stop measuring your life against society’s definition of success, and just live it.
- Make peace with the state of your finances. Work towards becoming debt free, but don’t let your debt stop you from enjoying life.
- Keep working towards your goals without obsessing over the fact that you haven’t met them yet.
- Let go of the things you can’t control that are robbing you of your peace.
- Focus on the things that are in your control right now, but don’t obsess over them.
- Always be present in every moment of your life.
- Stop worrying about the future and everything in between.
- Let go of your past, and stop wishing things could go back to the way they were.
- Forgive the people that have hurt you because thinking about that hurt is stopping you from being content.
- Let go of toxic people in your life or at least set some boundaries between you and them.
- Accept that it’s not your job to save people from themselves.
- Focus on loving people where they’re at instead of wishing they would change.
- Learn how to set boundaries in your work life and your personal life.
- Do the things that make you happy.
- Spend time with people that lift you up instead of bring you down.
- Spend less time arguing about petty things.
- Go after your dreams, and enjoy the journey while you’re on it.
- Make a list of the good you can do in the world, and then go do it.
How to choose to be content when life isn’t what you expected
Unfortunately, life isn’t always going to go the way you planned. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into doing things the right way, it still may not be what you expect. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be content.
While I was writing this, I looked up the difference between living a content life and a contented life (for grammatical purposes lol). And what I found was really interesting.
Someone had asked the question on english stack exchange, and one of the replies was that a contented life is still dependent on external circumstances, whereas a content life means that you can still be content despite your circumstances.
So how do you choose to be content when life isn’t what you expected? You just do.
I’m sorry if that’s not the answer you want. But like with everything else in life, if it’s something you really want, you work at it everyday.
Hopefully, you’ll find that the above 20 tips for being content will help you do that. And, I’m sorry there isn’t an easy fix for this. But here’s to us doing our best to be content in our twenties.
Before you go let me know if being content is something you think about in the comments below. And don’t forget to subscribe to Life is Rosy for more articles and tips for your twenties.