Secret to happiness: Contentment

07 July 2022

The definition of 'contentment' is 'a state of happiness and satisfaction'. It's an emotional and mental state that, of course, we all aspire to.

We often assume that achieving and sustaining contentment is something that just happens by chance, through the particular circumstances we're experiencing at any one time. However, as business transformation coach Jenny Allen-Smith from Stretching the City this is very much not the case. Contentment is something we can learn, something we can develop and train to happen more regularly in our lives.

Taking psychologist Dr Rangan Chatterjee's model of a 'three-legged stool' of happiness. Jenny emphasises how, if we are looking for true happiness, we need to get all of three legs of the stool - 'alignment', 'control', and 'contentment' - firmly into our lives.

Here, Jenny considers Dr Chatterjee's final 'leg' of the stool: contentment. As she explains: "How content do we feel? Do we feel at peace with ourselves and the life that we’re living, with the way that we're living and the decisions we're making? And how can we create more of this sense of peace?"

Jenny then recommends six contentment exercises we can build into our day-to-day routine.

Secret to happiness: Contentment

In the third and last vlog, Jenny Allen-Smith, a business transformation coach, discusses the secret to happiness with 'contentment'.

Creating a state of happiness and satisfaction

Exercise 1: Use a 'feelings wheel'

Jenny, first off, highlights the value of using a 'feelings wheel'.

This, she illustrates, demonstrates the vast (and often conflicting) range of emotions we can experience at any one time. "What I have often noticed with my clients is that we often label our emotions inaccurately. And that means we respond to them in the wrong way," Jenny points out.

Using the feelings wheel, identify the two named emotions that most accurately describe how you are feeling right now, she advises. Start with the centre of the wheel and move outwards, ideally finding two from the outer ring.

"Maybe you're feeling happy but what do you feel underneath that descriptor? Inspired, hopeful, thankful perhaps? Or maybe, actually, you are feeling sad underneath?" Jenny outlines.

"What you're doing here is a practice called 'noticing', which is really powerful. It creates a space between us and the emotion. So we are able to observe it rather than getting pulled into it," Jenny explains.

Creating this perceptual buffer allows you to step back and evaluate your emotions more clearly, to exert more control over your emotions. In the process, this allows you to feel calmer, more content, and more resourceful, Jenny argues.

Exercise 2: Build a 'seven-minute delay' into your morning

"This is about starting your day really powerfully. When you wake up, I ask you not to immediately pick up your phone," Jenny advises. This is because what wakes us in the morning is the stress hormone cortisol. By immediately reaching for our phone and, say, checking emails or 'doom scrolling' news or social media feeds, you can accelerate its production.

As Jenny points out: "That can make us feel even more stressed and overwhelmed, making it much harder for us to experience happiness first thing in the morning."

Instead, spend just seven minutes doing something that makes you feel happy and calm. "It might be a meditation, it might be stretching, it might be drinking a glass of water, it might be cuddling your kids or a partner or a dog or any other animal of your choice. Anything that is going to stop the cortisol from surging and putting you in a place of high stress to start your day," Jenny advises.

Exercise 3: Embrace 'habit stacking'

"This is about super-charging your existing routine," Jenny explains. "Think about what things, what moments, form part of your daily routine. It could be brushing your teeth, getting dressed, taking a shower, walking to work. I know you likely don't have much extra time to add to your day, so habit stacking is the perfect solution.

"It's adding something on the top of something else. So, perhaps when you're in the shower, rather than fretting about what you've got on that day, add in a mindfulness meditation. Or visualise yourself in an inspired way, feeling happy throughout that day. You can trick your body into experiencing those sensations and they can last throughout the entire day. It is very, very powerful.

"Habit stack at the end of the day as well. So, why not add a meditation into your commute home? Or walk home mindfully, using all the senses to take in all the environment around you. Habit-stacking is basically upgrading the existing moments in our lives, and it is utterly transformative," Jenny recommends.

Exercise 4: Channel the power of 'three good things'

"In our day-to-day lives, it is so easy to get caught up in all the things going wrong and feel a bit like you're living under your own private raincloud. At the same time we adapt to the good things and the people in our lives and can we end up taking them for granted," Jenny explains.

The solution, Jenny argues, is to focus on 'three good things'. As she explains: "By remembering and listing three positive things that have happened to you during your day, and considering what caused those good things, you can turn this into a real source of goodness in your life. It is a habit that can really change the emotional tone of your life.

"Be as specific as possible and provide an explanation for why they went well; that's really important. It is also really important to create a physical record. So, actually writing them down. It isn't enough to simply do this exercise in your head," she points out.

Exercise 5: Develop your micro-connections

This, Jenny advises, is all about recognising and enhancing the micro connections that happen all around you every day, but which most of us ignore or even try actively to tune out.

"You don't have to share your entire life's story, but you could definitely say 'hi' a bit more; or flash a smile; or engage in low-level small-talk," Jenny points out.

This could be the barista at your local coffee shop, the post person, or the Amazon delivery person. "If you flash a smile, you feel instantly happier in yourself and studies have shown that this can last throughout the entire day," Jenny adds.

Exercise 6: Pledge to be kind

"Kindness is an essential and over-overlooked part of our health and our happiness," Jenny emphasises. "Kindness buffers stress, it lowers pain levels, it reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, it boosts our immune system," she adds.

So, make a pledge to carry out a small act of kindness perhaps every week, or every day, whatever is going to work for you.

"Kindness has a ripple effect. Studies have shown that one act of kindness from you can ripple to and inspire acts of kindness in up to 100 other people. It is not only transforming our own happiness but the world around us," Jenny adds.

The secret to happiness - the final word

Summing up all three vlogs on the secret to happiness, Jenny emphasises that achieving genuine, sustained happiness is not something out of reach or unattainable. With just a few small, practical changes, you can become happier in your outlook, attitude and approach.

"I really hope that during this vlog series I have been able to show you how easy it is to be good at getting happy," she says.

"Happiness is not some impossibly distant destination, it is not a state preserved for the privileged, it is absolutely accessible to you. I look forward to your journey in finding true happiness," Jenny adds in conclusion.

About Jenny Allen-Smith and the author

Jenny Allen-Smith is a Transformational Coach, a Master NLP Practitioner and a Mental Health First Aid Trainer with MHFA England. Jenny works daily on her happiness practices and tries to incorporate something that makes her feel joy, every single day! She is getting good at happy.

Nic Paton is one of the country's foremost journalists on workplace health, safety and wellbeing, and is editor of Occupational Health & Wellbeing magazine. He also regularly writes on the health and employee benefits and health insurance markets.