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Yoga Sutras: Santosha means Contentment

October 23, 2010

How can I be happy?

What if there’s something better than happiness? Is contentment (santosha) ultimately be more fulfilling?

Santosha means contentment. Not happiness, not ecstasy or delight. Contentment. We don’t strive for the high, the amazing happy feeling that drives us wild–pure pleasure, endorphins firing and heart racing. Instead we work towards contentment.

Santosha is one of the five niyamas, or observances. The yamas and niyamas form the first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (or the eight-limbed path) as outlined in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. (The yoga sutras are a sort of guiding philosophical text for the classical yogi. More basic info on wikipedia.) Together, the yamas and niyamas, form a sort of “10 commandments” of yoga. They provide a philosophical outline of how to interact with the world (five yamas) and how to interact with our selves (five niyamas). They are an ethical roadmap to navigating this life.

You can choose to be content. It’s a choice.

Contentedness is something you can control. It’s something you can change.

See, contentment is not dependent on the external world. It does not depend on whether you were treated fairly by your coworkers today, if the gas attendant was nice to you, or if your loved ones reciprocated your attention. Instead, it only depends on you and how you decide to experience those events.

Happy always?

Happiness, pleasure, joy–these are rollercoaster emotions. Up, down, in, out, the great moments are great, but, jeez, in comparison the bad ones only look worse.

You can choose to be content. It’s a choice. Even if you’ve had the crummiest day in the world, you can choose to be content with what you have, who you are, what you do, the relationships you’ve built. You work on all these things, you do your best to improve yourself and your actions, and then you are content, knowing you have done your best. (Well, that means first you have do your best, but that’s for another post.)

Being content is different from being happy.

How To: Get Happy Content

Try this:

For one week, at the end of the day, instead of asking yourself “Am I happy?” ask yourself “Am I content?” Notice the difference.

Am I Happy?

When people are not happy, they often seek out external pleasures–money, sex, power, vices, shopping, extreme risk, etc. But these fixes are short-lived, ephemeral. You must constantly seek them out. How can a person be happy if they are on a rat race towards happiness?

Am I Content?

When people are not content, they are not satisfied with what they have. But this is something you can work on. Ask yourself, “why am I not satisfied with what I have? why am I not satisfied with who I am?” This is an internal exploration versus an external one.

If you can get to the root of why you are not content with things, for example:

  1. maybe you are not satisfied with how you are acting in the world, or
  2. maybe you are holding onto an old fantasy that is actually no longer relevant, or
  3. maybe you have never actually considered that the place you are and the person you are is exactly who you want to be,

then you can start to change them. What if you took concrete steps to:

  1. started to act in line with your values, or
  2. let go of that old fantasy of money, fame, and power, (or whatever it was) and created new goals in line with who you are today, or
  3. began to value, appreciate, and express gratitude for your current life

Perhaps then you might begin to taste contentment. And it’s sweet. Very sweet.

Change your contentment

Change is not easy (just ask the neuroscientists!) but knowing why you are changing and in what to change is empowering.

If you are not content, this is something you control, something you can change. It has to do with your attitude towards the world and with how you act in the world.

If you are not content, how can you carry yourself in this world to become content?

Can you act in a way that gives you contentment?

Can you taste not the wild thrill of the rollercoaster of emotion but the sweetness of contentment and satisfaction in your life?

Who knows, maybe you’ll taste happiness too. 😉

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