The secret of contentment

26 April 2010
I was asked in an email recently if I would reveal the secret of simple living. I have no secrets, I think I've been fairly open with what we're doing here.  I have a set of values I live by and everyone knows my day to day activities, so that was my reply. An email came back that surprised me quite a bit - it said that she had done most of what I was doing, made sure she planted what I planted, was knitting dishcloths and cooking from scratch, making soap, and a lot of other things exactly as I had written about them, but she had failed to find contentment. "What is the secret of contentment?"

Let me answer that question first and then I'll elaborate. The secret of contentment is to live the life you want to live. It must be your authentic life, not a copy of mine or anyone else's.  The secret is to find what you're passionate about and to carefully weave that into your life. The secret is to think carefully about what makes you truly happy, and then live a life that reflects that. I developed a certain set of values a few years ago and that value set, if I live true to them, makes me happy and content. I know deep down in my bones that if I am generous, kind and helpful, if I live slow and according to my values, and not those of mainstream Australia, if I give while expecting nothing in return, my life sails smoothly, even on troubled waters.  It's a circle. What you give out, comes back.  Always.

I often urge readers here to live their own lives.  What Hanno and I do is what suits us, it's not written about because it's THE way.  To find real contentment and to live well requires that you examine yourself and find what it is that makes you happy.  You need to think about how you want to live, what kind of person you want to be, what you want from life and develop a set of values that helps you live that way.  That is not easy to do and it takes a long time to figure out.  This part of the process is slow too.  You don't wake up one morning, think "I'm going to live simply" and then just copy how someone else lives.  Every element of your life must have meaning; making soap because I make soap is ridiculous and time consuming. Make soap only when it makes sense to YOU.  One of the advantages of this way of living is that it's organic and flexible and can be made to fit almost anyone.  Unlike mainstream living you don't fit a mould, you break the mould and then start adding and taking away until your life suits you.  You start with the mindset - the practical things that make up daily living change according to how old you are, whether you have children living with you, how much money and time you have.

Find what makes you happy and do it.  If you can't do it now, actively and earnestly work towards it.  And always remember, there is no final destination - we are in this for the journey and where it takes us.

For those who asked for the lemon tart recipe, here it is:

Make a pastry case, my recipe is here, but you can use any good short crust pasty recipe. Blind bake the pastry and allow to cool.

4 large eggs
Half to two thirds of a cup of fresh lemon juice - depending on how tart would want the filling to be
45 grams/1½ oz softish butter cut into little pieces
200 grams/7 ozs white sugar
½ cup cream

Put all the above in a bowl and beat with an electric beater for about three minutes.  Everything needs to be combined well and the sugar dissolved.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake in a slow oven, around 160*C/320*F.  The filling should set around the edges and still be a little bit wobbly in the centre.


  1. Something I heard once and found out that it was True...
    If you are paddling your life's boat Against the current...there will Always be discontent, but if you just "let go" of the oars, the boat will turn and flow with the current and there lies contentment...
    This is how I now live...and I'm content...
    Great post.

  2. I like this post, it makes a lot of sense. I am trying to do things my way, but doing them slow is a little hard as I am 38 year old mom with three children ages 1, 2 1/2 and 5. So it is busy!!!! But I get enjoyment with trying out baking with sourdough, gardening as much as possible, canning the fruits of my labors, knitting and sewing.... I enjoy making my own things and feeling at least a little bit self-sufficient. I like being able to refer to your blog when something catches my interest and giving something new a try.

    Hope you have a great day today. It's always a bit strange to see what time your posts come through. You are starting a new Monday and we are enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon! :)))


  3. I think it can be very hard to find contentment and is something I am striving to do in my life right now. I really enjoyed how you put the process into words. I am a 28 year old new mother who is adjusting to staying home and having a family. I find that just when I found myself and contentment my life changed completely and I am having to adjust while helping my Husband find his way too. This is an ever changing thing in life and it helps to be flexible!

  4. Great post. I figured out last summer that gardening was not for me. I had a plot in a community garden & was unable to keep up with the weeds because of work - I ended up hurting myself in the process & it took months for the pain to settle down some. Ultimately, we sold our house & moved back "home" to Florida. We bought a small house - half the size of the one in Colorado - reduced our mortgage payment by half & the number of years by half. Now for us, this is the road to "simple living".

  5. Living a contented life should come easy, because it's relatively simple if you think about it, but unfortunately it often isn't obtained by will, but many of times dictated by circumstances. I for one, am a late bloomer - call it hormones, restlessness of youth, curiosity, idealism, being naive - I learned to relax and go with the flow rather late in my life and I do understand why young people can often not feel grounded as some older folks can. A few lucky ones learn early - or have this gift - but in my experience, true contentment - at least in my case - came with lots of experience, insight and wisdom that evolved from having "lived" and survived.
    Today, I'm glad to be alive and wish I would have known then what I know now, but how could I? I wasn't even me yet ;-)
    Nice, thoughtprovoking post.
    That lemon tart looks fantastic. I LOVE lemons!

  6. This is a great post, and such an important message. But perhaps it is one that people arrive at at different times in their lives. I've mostly been content as an adult, but perhaps some of that came from a mother who taught me to count my blessings. And I've been able to have many surprising ones. And I always realized that people were more important than things. But when I was younger and had three young children at home, those were years of such business, that I may not have taken enough time to be aware of it all. (Yet, I think I was aware.) But now that I am older I am more aware and appreciate things more. I am still working on my life, but that's probably something everyone has to do as long as they are alive.

    Being authentic to ones own self is the foundation of everything. I don't make soap, though I am buying green products and trying not to be wasteful. But I do many other things that make me feel I am part of the solution. And I am a great believer in baby steps, in being happy if I am just moving gently in the direction I want to go in. I don't have to have perfection right now. (Or I'd be terribly disappointed rather than content!)

    That lemon tart recipe looks wonderful. I don't make pastry often, but when I do, I follow my mother's recipe. She made her pies with butter and milk, no water. They were never tough, and always flaky and wonderful. I'm probably going to make this next Saturday when I'm having my daughters and their husbands over for a birthday tea (because the birthday girl is going out and can't stay for a dinner). My son will like this too, I bet.

  7. Oh my gosh Rhonda ~ This post brings tears to my eyes. DH and I are in our early 60's and we've been living frugally for many years now. The following is what touched my core being: "To find real contentment and to live well requires that you examine yourself and find what it is that makes you happy.

    Unlike mainstream living you don't fit a mould, you break the mould and then start adding and taking away until your life suits you. You start with the mindset - the practical things that make up daily living change according to how old you are, whether you have children living with you, how much money and time you have."

    I am so glad to see you back posting encouraging/inspiring words for all of us, no matter what our age.

    Hugs ~ FlowerLady

  8. Thank You. I always feel inspired when I read your blog. Elise

  9. I really enjoyed this post.

    We live in a neighborhood where a lot of people are quite elaborate with interior decorating. We are not. The inside of our house is pleasant, but does not at all look as though someone put a lot of time into making it look aesthetically pleasing. It's just not our style.

    We don't have super nice furniture or nice clothes. We are happy the way we are. Instead, we spend that money on weekly Karate lessons! Life is good.

  10. What a wonderful post! I just had this conversation with 2 of my daughters. I think its ok to want more, do more...and those "wants" are different for everyone. Life happens and you learn/grow from it, 2 people on the same path will learn & grow differently. One lesson I learned is to be content in each of lifes stages. If you can't be happy and content where you are you wont be where your going.

  11. This post reminds me of some lines from a song on the radio that just jumped out me the other day. They went something like "Your life won't be made by the guy who's elected... Decide who you want to be, then go out and BE it!"

  12. This is so encouraging - so inspiring. You have helped me so much over the last year or so, just in sorting out my own thoughts in regards to all this and refining what is important to me and my family - more so in this way even than in the vege gardening and cooking-from-scratch and the thriftiness (although that has been helpful too). Thank you for your transparency and your willingness to share your life with us, Rhonda. You have made a difference to my life and to the peace in my home.
    Rachel L from NZ

  13. That's so lovely, I do so enjoy your writing. I am not at all surprised you were asked the lemon tart recipe it looked so yummy I searched around the site for it too! I live in Sweden 40 minutes from Carl Larsson's beautiful house, it is kept just like it is in his paintings! Beautiful. Thanks for you time and sharing with us your posts are such a treat. All the best, Helen.

  14. I thought that this was a very interesting post.In my own experience finding what you are passionate about is much easier when you start to consider which activities, items people etc. currently in your life are draining your energy and go about removing them!! It is as though contentment can be hidden under a lot of unnecessary stuff.

  15. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe. I can't wait to try it.

  16. I loved todays post. It gave me goose bumps. My day is not complete until I read your blog.

    Carol D

  17. Contentment.....something I have been striving to find for years.
    I have a picture in my mind of what it looks like. I am at a point where I need to actually feel it now.

    I watch people around me moving at such a quick pace and competeing with the person next to them for the bigger and better material item. It actually makes me feel ill.

    I believe in trying something at least once if not twice in order to figure out if it is something I want in my life. Whether it is gardening, chickens, preserving or trying that cooked octopus dish..Octopus --- tried it ..won't be again. Still need to do more land clearing in order to a little of the vegie growing and preserving etc. Everything will come in time.

    Now if I could just get my housework done around here I would probably be just that much more relaxed.

    Thankyou for your inspirational writing. It makes me take stock every day in my own journey.


  18. Contentment is so different for everyone - that is why people are unique and suited for different purposes. Contentment will never come from copying what someone else is doing, it can only come from that place insides that breathes: "Yes. This is the way it should be!" I love the message of this post!

  19. So true!
    We were house hunting weeks ago and had made an offer on a home that had a large portion of land. I was surprised that I was dreading it!! But I wanted chickens and wanted to have a big garden?!!? Why was I so unhappy about it? I was dreading the large amount of mowing and weeding and watering and tending... because it would take away from my time doing what I really love : painting/art/drawing, spending time doing craft projects with my kids, making soap, going on "one tank trips" with my family, etc...
    That was my contentment lightbulb.
    We backed out on the house and bought another one with a small yard big enough for our dog and a square-foot type garden, but it has a huge sunroom in which to paint and do all the things we love!
    You are so right, Rhonda. It's different for everyone.

  20. So true. Living a deliberate life can, and should, look different to different people. The important thing is that we should all think about what our values are, and work towards living by them, instead of just going with the flow. I'm 31 years old and I just understood this concept fairly recently. How I wish I had had the courage and wisdom to go against the flow 10 years ago!

  21. Mm, that recipe looks lovely! I have some limes, so I may try my hand at a lime tart this week. :)

    I enjoyed the rest of your post as well. It is hard to wrap one's mind around the concept of living one's own life, since we're all told constantly that we need to fit in and conform. Getting out from that mainstream thought pattern is so refreshing, but if someone asked me how I've been accomplishing it I would be at a loss for words. I don't know, I've just been "doing", is the closest I can really come to explaining how.

  22. I am her in the US, Texas, to be precise and the weather has been beautiful, Work is great, the Kiddos are fine, Hubby is happy, I have found contentment, I must keep it close. Love the blogg, just found it through SmallNotebook, Thank you for the insight. At 33ish, I have learned enough to stop, then think, then do. Listening to you helps!

  23. This was an excellent post. Well, I read your blog, so I guess I find most posts excellent. I do think it's great though that you've been able to direct people to their authentic self. That is so important. There's so many people who don't know their Self; they only know who Madison Ave wants them to be. I especially like this post because a few weeks ago, you ran life by the decades, and I had to completely skip it. The things that I'd hoped for and worked for have not panned out for me. I could be very discontent right now because I am not where a woman my age should be by anyone's standards including my own. But, I am doing the best I can, and knowing who I am, and I find contentment in that.
    Thank you!

  24. Exactly! My life is very unique but I do use yours and other blogs to inspire me. Great post

  25. Good post, Rhonda.

    When others voice their opinions about what you should or should not be doing makes you doubt thus leading to discontentment. I must remember it's not about OTHERS wants for me but MY wants for me.

    I stayed at home with my young children and that was contentment for me. I now work FT because the kids are older and I was bored staying home--this is contentment for me now.

    I do like to garden, preserve foods, etc. and though it's hard work it is necessary for now. It may be more fun later when life isn't so hectic.

    But I like where I am each road I travel. It has to come from inside yourself first and foremost!


  26. Good advice! I too try to live as simply as possible. I make our soap too. Isn't it fun to do things like that?

  27. I think contentment is when you can say, 'Yes this is pretty good day, a pretty good life.. good enough!' without feeling guilty.

  28. Thanks so much (as always) for yet another inspirational and honest post!

    Tracy (Brisbane)

  29. Really enjoy your blog and all the encouragement to live simply and slow down.For me true contentment came when I was 26 and became a Christian-I then had such purpose to all I did and truly knew I was fearfully and wonderfully made and God had a plan for my life.
    Have a great day.
    God bless,
    Maree in New Zealand.

  30. Sheila, North Wales. UKApril 27, 2010 8:24 am

    Thank you Rhonda for this post especially as a very good friend & I were speaking about the same issues today. When you write, everything seems to make so much sense to me. I have certainly reached a point in my life that I have realised I don't need to follow the crowd and live my life as I think people expect me to. Its my life and I must do what makes ME happy. One of my favourite sayings is "Life ain't a dress rehearsal" and thats so true, but I am also learning that change doesn't happen overnight and you have to be prepared to take it slowly! And I also truly believe and agree in what you said "What you give out comes back. Always"

  31. Great points here and in many of the comments too.
    To me, things like making the dishcloths, baking from scratch, making soap etc. are like the outward display of something much deeper and harder to define. It is to do with having purpose, healthy self-esteem, spiritual needs met and being interested in helping others. All of the physical acts of the simple life could seem hollow if these inner things are not addressed.
    I sincerely hope that your reader who emailed can find the inner things needed to feel content.

  32. I am so glad you posted your lemon tart . I will be making this in the morning. It looks delish

  33. Such a beautiful, touching post, Rhonda Jean - thank you. The tart recipe = now, I, too, am content :-)


  34. I also think contentment is a choice. For example, Rhonda, You've helped me appreciate doing my house work and helped me see the value in that. I used to get really frustrated and find it arduous, but after reading some of your blog posts (can't even remember which ones now!) I changed my attitude towards it and I now find it really satisfying. Thank you Rhonda.
    Rebecca xo

  35. Good answer! I feel the same way, figure out how to be happy :) Great blog!
    love, julie (asheville, north carolina)


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