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How to be more content: Stop looking up.

This idea of not looking up has been percolating around in my mind since I heard Sheryl Crow’s Soak Up The Sun song years ago. Now, normally pop songs are not a good place to draw from when you’re looking for simple, contented living ideas, but this one’s kind of an exception.

My favorite line in the song is the one that goes, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Love, love, love that.

(it’s sort of the idea I was talking about last week…looking for the good helps you to want what you’ve already got.)

But another line is the one that inspired this post title…“Every time I feel lame, I’m looking up.”

I know that’s not high English or anything, but isn’t it so true?

So much of the time our discontent is caused by looking up at things/people/jobs/relationships that are better (or at least we perceive them to be better) than the ones we have.

Marketing departments of every major company knows this to be true. If they can make us look up and see something that is better than what we have, we’ll feel like what we have is lame and will thus feel the need to upgrade (hello, overspending!).

It would be one thing if the marketing stopped after we did one upgrade, but it never does. 2.0 is cool and all, but only until 3.0 comes out.

And 3.0 is so last week once 4.0 comes out.

(even classic games are not immune to this…there’s now a battery-operated Uno game, and a new version of Twister).

If you keep looking up, you’ll likely keep buying and buying and buying, and you’ll be quite unlikely to ever be satisfied. After all, that’s the marketer’s goal…to keep you consistently dissatisfied/consistently buying).

Of course, this looking up problem is not relegated to the shopping arena alone.

If you’re always looking up at husbands/wives/children/moms/dads/friends who appear to be more wonderful than your own, you’ll probably be discontent (and you might cycle through an awful lot of relationships as you look for an upgrade).

If you’re always looking up at houses that appear to be more wonderful/spacious/not-split-foyer-y (I’m looking at me here!) than your own, you’ll probably be discontent.

If you’re always looking up at weather/climates/neighborhoods that appear to be more wonderful than your own, you’ll probably be discontent.

You get the idea.

So, what can do you about this? Simply thinking, “I’m going to stop wanting stuff that’s nicer than mine!” sounds lovely, but I need more practical help than that. Here are a few suggestions that help me, and maybe they’ll help you too (interestingly enough, they all start with R’s).

1. Redirect your thoughts. Instead of looking up at what you want, look for the good in what you’ve got.

I wrote a whole post about that last week, so I won’t belabor the point.

I will say that this takes deliberate thinking. If you just let your thoughts run around, dragging you behind them, you’ll probably end up looking up at what you want.

When your thoughts go that route, you have to rein them in.

Be the boss of your thoughts! When they start running off in the wrong direction, purposely steer them back to looking for the good in what you’ve got.

2. Reduce your exposure to advertising.

As I mentioned above, advertisers desperately want you to look up to see products, products, and products that can fill holes in your life.

We all think we’re immune to those silly advertisements, but we’re obviously not (marketing departments would stop doing what they’re doing if it wasn’t working!).

Children aren’t any more immune to marketing than we adults are (and probably are less immune), so we’ll do our whole family a service if we reduce advertising exposure.


One big way is to cut back on TV watching (I have more to say on that topic, but it’s another post for another day).

Another is to get off catalog mailing lists.

Listening Spotify instead of the radio will also reduce ad consumption.

Most magazines are also filled with ads (sometimes I think they’re more ad than content!), so cutting back on those will help.

3. Remember that everything has upsides and downsides.

That husband or wife who seems so perfect has flaws, I promise (you just might not see them).

That house that’s so much bigger than yours comes with more cleaning duties and higher utility bills.

That car that’s 10 years newer than yours will need more expensive insurance.

That job that pays so much more than yours might come with a long commute or long hours.

That washing machine that’s way newer than yours probably has an expensive motherboard that will fail.

Of course, some things/relationships are bound to be better than your own, but none of them are perfect, and often they’re not quite all they’re cracked up to be.

So, to be more content I try to

1) look for the good

2)stop looking up.

and next week I’ll share the 3rd way that I fight against discontent.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so comment away. 🙂

P.S. As a disclaimer, I should mention that I think it’s ok to look up sometimes and it’s ok to upgrade sometimes. Some relationships do need to be cut off and replaced, some houses do need to be sold and replaced and so on. I’m just saying that if we want to be content, we shouldn’t let ourselves consistently think about stuff that’s better than what we’ve got.

Read part three of this series.

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Sunday 18th of September 2016

Sheryl Crow her music will always bring me back to unforgettable last summer, Soak Up The Sun always liked this song


Wednesday 22nd of June 2011

I am a regular reader, and just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this post. I know it is from a while ago, but I discovered it recently while looking for something else on your blog. I linked back to it in my most recent blog post here, and wanted to let you know I had done so: Thanks for your helpful, thoughtful writing, Anne


Thursday 21st of October 2010

This is so good and very true, I was into a depression and (envy) stage awhile back over my husband's sister and her husband, they're into worse debt than we are, and she's got a fully furnished house, new washer/dryer, just leased a bran new car, and he was out of a job for a year, and then got a job and ate out for lunch almost every day. Enough said, but I'll say this, we are all Christians and I would get so angry that Im being so convicted from the Lord to not even by paper towel ( but she's got to have a certain kind) or I'd give up buying even coffee and creamer just to save that extra $10. I was acting like Peter saying "Lord what about her" But I'm slowly getting beyond it, and knowing that I'd rather have that close of a relationship with God convicting me on what's important than to make sure I had a new purse cuz I can't stand the one I have (but it will work for now). I'm thankful to have these reminders and pray for me to keep my mind in control and to focus on the important things. -Rachel

Megan C

Thursday 21st of October 2010

Not only is this fabulous advice for us, but in doing these things we are also giving our children a fabulous gift, the art of contentment.


Monday 18th of October 2010

I've really been interested in your contentment series. I am a very happy person... usually, but lately I have been unhappy, and I've been working on ways to change that. Here's my latest thoughts on finding happiness:

Thanks for the continuing source of inspiration!

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