Where does happiness come from? The answer can be found in Santosha. Patanjali provides the following description of Santosha: ‘By contentment, supreme joy is obtained’ (Yoga Sutra 2.42). This might seem like a large leap – from contentment to supreme joy, but there is much depth to this concept.
One of my favourite descriptions of Santosha is by Emma Newlyn:
‘Do not wait for happiness. You have everything you need right within you.’
Newlyn talks about how we feel a need for this, that, or something else to be happy; for example, needing to lose a few kilograms of weight. She talks about waiting to accomplish a never-ending to-do list. The message of yoga is that the true soul, deep within, is awesome and we only have to look inside and recognise our true self to appreciate this. We should not try to be something we think we are supposed to be. Instead, appreciate our awesomeness and what we have to offer the world exactly as we are.
Helen Avery invites us to cultivate a life full of wonder, curiosity, and a deep love for everything that is. She takes a very Daoist attitude – one of learning to enjoy every experience in life, including the “bad” as well as the “good”. Avery explains that Santosha is not a passive contentment, it is an active falling in love with life. Our emotions will change as we are affected by life. We can experience a deep joy in life by taking an attitude of curiosity and love to these changes, even those that bring us frustration or sadness. Avery quotes the great Daoist philosopher, Lao Tzu from his classic, the Tao Te Ching:
‘Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.’
This sentiment is echoed by Christine Malossi, who quotes BKS Iyengar in Light on Yoga: “the yogi feels the lack of nothing and so is naturally content.” Malossi says Santosha is achieved by getting rid of desire. She goes on to point out the irony in how desire provides our motivation for practicing yoga. People in the developed world are drawn to yoga by the desire for a calmer mind, less stress and a lean, strong, flexible body. The focus tends to be more on asana and less on the other limbs of yoga. But this attitude of desire has us comparing ourselves with others and pushing our body in a way that does not produce the best results. Rather, Avery says: ‘Instead of contorting and forcing your body into a pose, find the version of the pose that makes sense for your body’. She tells us to look deeper within ourselves to find contentment.
Constance Habash quotes TKV Desikachar, describing the meaning of Santosha as accepting what happens. She goes on to say: ‘It is also accepting ourselves just as we are. … It is an inner feeling of satisfaction, of fullness, in the now, so that the events and things of the outer world don’t set us off balance’. Habash reinforces Avery’s Daoist perspective by dispelling the myth of contentment being boring and explaining how life is much more interesting with Santosha. This is because Santosha ‘heightens our appreciation and experience of what is, and therefore enriches us deeply’.
Avery, H. (undated) Santosha: Fall in Love with Life, https://wanderlust.com/journal/santosha-fall-in-love-with-life/
Habash, C. (2012) Making Peace with Contentment (Santosha), https://www.awakeningself.com/writing/making-peace-with-contentment-santosha/
Malossi, C. (undated) The Second Niyama: Santosha – Contentment, https://www.yogauonline.com/yoga-basics/second-niyama-santosha-contentment
Newlyn. E. (2014) Santosha – Contentment, https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/santosha-contentment