How to feel content

Daybreak’s health coach talks us through the 10 core needs that we need to meet to feel content.

Can you remember a time in your life when things felt ‘just right’? Perhaps it was a time when you felt you were really getting to where you wanted to be; you felt unstoppable. Or, it was a time when there were a lot of new things happening, and you felt like the world was opening up to you.

It could be that, at that time, you were meeting most of your core needs.

A lot of research into wellbeing and life satisfaction indicates that ‘happiness’ – or, at the very least, to feel content, depends on us having most of our needs met in the different areas of our lives.

What are the 10 core needs to feel content?*

If we invest too much in one area, we risk falling short in others. Spending too much time earning money and working means our social and relational needs are unmet. On the other hand, spending too much time socialising might mean that we fall behind in our personal growth or looking after our health. It is a delicate balance. Importantly, you don’t need all 10 needs met to feel content. We generally aim to meet six or seven of the needs, fully or partially.

When people present to me with symptoms of depression, I often run through an inventory of their unmet needs. Chronically unmet needs can often result in feeling discontent. This, in turn, can cause us to feel empty, lonely, frustrated, anxious, and generally out of sorts. When we feel discontented, we are much more likely to drink more, eat more, and do more ‘self-soothing’ pursuits. These can include online shopping, social media trawling, gambling, or other things which may temporarily lift our moods.

Ironically, these are things that generally cause us to have even less of a chance to meet our needs. They are avoidance behaviours and keep us stuck in the same place.

In my experience, it is often the relational needs that are important. We can sometimes feel lonely if we are not part of something bigger than ourselves, like a social circle. Similarly, if we feel we are not learning and growing, or have a purpose in our lives, we can be left with an unsettling sense of frustration and anxiety. Different needs are also more important at different times in our lives.

Finding ways to resolve your unmet needs is likely to result in a big shift in your mood and outlook. It could be that your alcohol use is a way of managing feelings of discontentment stemming from these unmet needs. In the other direction, your alcohol use might be contributing to unmet needs, since our drinking might be impacting our relationships, energy levels, health, and finances.

How do you start to feel content?

Look back at that time in your life when things felt really good. If you can’t think of a time when that was happening, then think of the closest time to that; a time that you remember as a pretty good period of your life. Then go through the core needs (health, home, money, social, partner, close friends, group belonging, self-care, personal growth, and meaning and purpose).

What were you doing then that was different to what you are doing now?

Often we find that in those really good times, we were either investing our time differently (eg. in our friendships and relationship, rather than work or video games), doing things for our health (eg. involved in regular exercise or sports), or in a period of growth or personal development (eg. studying or learning a new skill or hobby).

The next step is to take an inventory of where you are now and which of these core needs is unmet. How might you be able to bump up that need from unmet to at least partially met?

Examples to feel content

If your health needs are currently unmet, you could take a couple of hours to research some exercise plans, look up healthy recipes online, or go for a long walk to start the process of getting back into shape.

When social needs are unmet, you could send off some texts to old friends, or perhaps search on for groups of people who you might have something in common with.

Finally, if your personal growth needs are unmet, you could search online for a short course you can do in your spare time, or look at taking up some hobbies or setting goals for yourself. Do anything that might challenge you or provide you with intellectual stimulation.

Addressing our unmet needs is something that we know works. Remember that time in your life when things felt really good? Often it is a constant work in progress and our circumstances can change, friends can move, life can get on top of us and we can find that our previously met needs are now unmet. All that we need to do is to be aware of this, and notice when that familiar feeling of discontentment comes up. When we can recognise it, then we can start to take action towards addressing those unmet needs and moving back towards contentment.

*10 Core needs based on workshop materials presented by Matthew Berry, a Melbourne psychologist

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