Embracing Contentment

November 23, 2023
Labyrinth Canyon Amie Floating

By: Eli Shostak

Stop Pursuing Happiness and Start Embracing Contentment

Guests playing cards around the chair circleThe pursuit of happiness is like the search for Sasquatch. We endlessly explore places where we’ve heard we can find it, hoot and howl in the dark, bang on trees, and maybe catch a quick glimpse of this elusive experience. But when we stop and reflect on what happened, we’re left with questions and uncertainty. Was that it? Did we truly feel happy? Or was it something else we were feeling? Were we duped by a masquerader dressed up in a happiness costume?

Unlike looking for Bigfoot, the more intensely we chase happiness, the less likely we are to actually find it. If tracking this mythical beast is potentially making us less happy, should we just quit the race, put our feet up and hope happiness catches us?Luke Laying on sleeping pad in boat

It turns out that while happiness has been out there playing a vigorous game of hide-and-seek, contentment has been serenely chilling in a camp chair, watching all the action and totally enjoying itself. When we accept and honor the moments which make up our lives as they are instead of stalking how we think they should be, we drop out of the race and wrap ourselves in contentment’s warm embrace. Although contentment is surely part of being happy, happiness need not be part of being content. Therein lies the simple and attainable elegance of feeling content.

With “pursue happiness” now checked off our to-do list, how do we find contentment? Practicing gratitude, the star of the show this time of year, is a magnificent first step. Instead of feasting on thankfulness once a year, we can find things for which we are grateful every day, then put these things on a list and refer to it often. Ideally, these things exist currently in our world, but when we’re feeling especially downtrodden, we can bathe in gratitude for memories of wonderful experiences like our Holiday trip last summer. 

Guests holding hands by the riverFloating, biking, and hiking in wild landscapes provide perfect opportunities to immerse ourselves in contentment. When we travel in far-flung environments, we have to accept that things might not always go as planned, a perspective we’re less oriented to in our daily routines. From trail or river conditions to weather patterns and campsites, we just never know exactly what we’ll discover around the next bend. And, while adversity and uncertainty can challenge our sense of happiness, we’ll certainly enjoy the ride more when we focus on being content with whatever we find. Welcoming the present moment without comparison or judgment encourages us to feel totally satisfied with life as it is. Plus, when life is an adventure in a gorgeous place with wonderful people, it’s easy to plunge into contentment.

By orienting our attention to the goodness in our lives we are reminded we can find contentment (and sometimes even happiness!) anytime. As the rapids of this holiday season approach, be sure to take quiet moments to focus on elements of your life for which you are grateful. From that recognition, see if you can be content with things as they are. Stop the pursuit and start the practice!


Eli Shostak is a Senior Lecturer of Adventure Education at Fort Lewis College. A former river guide, NOLS Course Leader, and sea kayaking instructor, he is a firm believer in the power of shared experiences in wild places. Eli is dedicated to using his expertise in mindfulness, leadership, and expedition planning to facilitate journeys for finding the personal and interpersonal benefits of exploring diverse landscapes. His favorite game to play on trips is called “Knuck Tats,” something you’ll have to ask him about.