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Putting values into practice

The 3 core values of Santosha Yoga Australia - contentment, acceptance and gratitude - are based on my personal belief that developing and practicing these 3 things are crucial to inner peace and emotional and physical wellbeing.

Santosha is the Sanskrit word for contentment. Contentment is not something you achieve, it is a practice, a choice. It doesn’t always come easily or naturally. Contentment is about finding joy in what is.

In modern society’s endless pursuit of happiness, too often we make happiness conditional: “I will be happy when I change jobs/lose weight/find a partner/get out of this relationship/earn more/travel the world/move house/eat chocolate”. You get the picture.

In contrast, contentment is about finding the good in whatever situation or circumstances you find yourself in. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set goals or have dreams. It means that you can find joy along the way.

I often get caught in the trap of dealing with any discontent by distracting myself. Too often lately, this has been by wasting time on my phone. I find myself on social media, checking emails, surfing the net, not knowing what I am looking for but always leaving with a sense of dissatisfaction.

I try to catch myself doing this (so often it is done mindlessly) and spend some time quietly just pondering what is causing the discontent and instead finding something that I can be content about. For me this is usually a matter of finding something in nature or spending time with my cats.

A contentment practice goes hand in hand with acceptance. Grasping on to something that we don’t have will usually lead to unhappiness. Again, this is not to say that we should tolerate circumstances, behavior or situations that are not to our standards or in line with our values. Acceptance is different to resignation, which is more about giving up in defeat. But the key to acceptance lies in the adage that we should not worry about the things we cannot control.

By all means, we should strive to influence the big picture issues that we care deeply about. Find a sense of purpose in the small actions that we can control, that will add up to making a difference. But we need to accept that we are not going to single-handedly change the world.

This applies to how we view our relationships with other people. We should never tolerate someone else’s behavior if it is detrimental to ourselves or others. But it is not within our sphere of influence to change someone else. We can lead by example or we can walk away. But change is up to them, and that’s something we need to accept.

The other practice that underpins our ability to find contentment is gratitude. One way that you might practise gratitude is to reflect at the end of each day on something that you are grateful for. Some people keep a gratitude diary. They don’t need to be big things, they can be as simple as feeling grateful that we had some time to feel the sun on our face that day. Or that the flowers are blooming. Or that we made eye contact and exchanged a smile with a stranger. None of those things cost money, but can leave us feeling enriched.

In my experience, practising gratitude and acceptance ultimately lead to contentment. What’s your experience? Are you making your happiness and wellbeing conditional upon external factors? Are there situations or circumstances causing you grief that are outside your ability to control? Can you find some small thing you can control, and focus on that, and work towards accepting what you cannot control? Can you write a list of things you are grateful for, and actively seek them out?

Sometimes these practices can be “much easier said than done”. But this why I am emphasizing the word practice: with time and consistent effort, you will reap the rewards in the form of greater wellbeing.

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