Do you have an attitude of gratitude?

written by Veronica Joseph

gratitude smile happy relationship couple family

Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the second niyama — which outlines personal observances for living spiritually — speaks of santosha, or contentment. Compared to the other yamas (moral disciplines) and niyamas that often sound complex and scary, santosha is slightly more straightforward. Contentment, happiness, joy — sounds great, right?

The thing about santosha, though, is that it’s not just about being content, it’s about practising contentment — both of which can be a real struggle. A lot people associate happiness as something to be gained or to strive for. We think that, once we have a new job, a new home, a new relationship, then we’ll be happy. Then we’ll be content.

Once you tap into this innate wellspring of joy, you can gain a greater appreciation for what you already have around and within you.

We rarely refer to contentment in the present and, when we do, it’s so often dependent on and attached to something else — a person, an object, an experience — and, once that thing goes, we feel we are lacking or not good enough. We cannot be content without it.

But the thing is, whether you realise it or not, you have everything inside you to experience contentment. And, once you tap into this innate wellspring of joy, you can gain a greater appreciation for what you already have around and within you. As long as we continue to see happiness as something beyond us, we will never be able to achieve it.

Santosha is about cultivating gratitude, practising contentment and accepting the here and now. Contentment isn’t dependent on the past or future, on material objects or anyone else. Being content with what you have, rather than unhappy with what you lack, allows you to rediscover the abundance around you and allows more joy and bliss to enter your life.

The modern challenge

When life is peachy, practising santosha comes naturally. But what about when things are less than great — because, let’s face it, there are some bad things happening in this world and our lives have their own fair share of challenges. Is it selfish to be content in a world of suffering? How can you be content when you fall on tough times?

This is the real challenge of santosha; however, practising contentment can actually help you get through the difficult times. By taking things as they come and making peace with your present circumstances, you can cultivate contentment and gratitude for where you are.

No matter how difficult the road ahead might seem, santosha’s priority is the present — and it is that secret, inner source of happiness, hope and inspiration you can tap into in any moment.

Choosing santosha is an active decision. In life, we often find ourselves in situations where we feel powerless and without any choice. However, you always have the ability to practise santosha if you truly want to. No matter how difficult the road ahead might seem, santosha’s priority is the present — and it is that secret, inner source of happiness, hope and inspiration you can tap into in any moment.

Santosha isn’t about ignoring tough times or complacency. It doesn’t ask you to tolerate bad or dangerous situations you might find yourself in, or forbid you to have ambitions or look toward the future. Rather, it allows you to focus on the present and accept what you are feeling. When we can identify sadness, pain and anger, we also have a clearer concept of happiness, contentment and gratitude.

Practising santosha is a reminder and a learning experience. It teaches us to practise patience and live as best as we can until we can change our circumstances. It grounds us so we can reflect on where we are now — and the goodness around us so we can move forward.

Affirmations for contentment

Affirmations can be practised before yoga, first thing in the morning or even be recited during the day in the times you need to remind yourself to practise contentment.

For an affirmation that focuses on cultivating contentment, consider using some of the below phrases as starting points to create your own. Remember to focus not only on fostering contentment in your life, but within as well.

Why choose gratitude?

Patanjali said that santosha fosters a supreme joy that leads to realisation of the true self. Through the practice of contentment, appreciation and gratitude, you can cultivate this joy that pervades every layer of your being.

Santosha makes each of us more aware and grateful for the goodness around us when we, and others, need it the most — and yogis aren’t the only ones telling us to do this.

Over the years, a range of studies have documented some interesting benefits to overall health and wellbeing that come with practising gratitude, even in the midst of adversity such as confronting death or chronic illness. Cultivating a content and fully present state of mind by practising gratitude provides greater perspective, appreciation for life and can benefit us in other ways, too. Among other benefits, it:

Finding contentment through asana

Santosha is something you can actively practise on the yoga mat — but you don’t necessarily need asanas (physical poses) in order to do this.

We have all been guilty of looking around during yoga class to compare other students’ postures to our own, and evaluating if they are “better” or “worse”. But, as long as you keep comparing yourself to others, you’ll never be happy in your practice. Even if you end up doing the most complicated of arm balances without contentment and appreciation, you will never make true progress in your practice.

Your practice is a journey, and contentment, in the here and now, will help pave the path forward in your yogic experience.

Santosha is important to remember on the mat as it teaches an appreciation of where we are in our practice right now. After all, you need to master that shoulder stand before you move on to the headstand and, if you can’t respect your body’s limits, you’ll find it will respond in no uncertain terms. It will prevent you from going further and simply say “no” — or result in a physical injury.

Practising santosha on the mat means appreciating yourself and your practice no matter your level. Santosha requires you to let go of the desire to be stronger or more flexible and accept and become aware of your body and your limits. Your practice is a journey, and contentment, in the here and now, will help pave the path forward in your yogic experience.

How to practise santosha

Santosha is more than smiling all the time; it’s about cultivating an attitude of gratitude. The santosha mindset puts us in the present and allows us to reflect on and appreciate the wonder around and within us and discover true joy. There are lots of ways to cultivate and bring greater awareness of santosha into your life, including:

 Emergency santosha tips

Life has its fair share of tricky moments. During these times, it’s understandable to abandon any thought of santosha and get caught up in the dominant emotions you’re feeling, which likely are anger, sadness or hopelessness. Whether it’s your boss piling more work on you when you’re already under the pump, a fight with your partner or even the frustration of waiting in line or in traffic, cultivating santosha through practising acceptance, gratitude and compassion is something that can help you get through those less-than-great moments. Here’s how to do it:

Be here now

The wise Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

This is the attitude of santosha. It teaches us to embrace patience, acceptance, gratitude and happiness — things that are always within us and can never be dimmed — so that even in difficult times, we can persevere and make it through.

Santosha really comes back to simply living in the now. It’s about accepting what we have, where we are and being content with this. It tells us, don’t sit around and wish and wait for happiness. It is here already and it is within you. So start living and breathing it!


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Veronica Joseph

Veronica Joseph is an accredited yoga teacher who loves to share her yogic journey from travels in India, cleansing techniques, her favourite poses and their benefits and tips to remember when practising.