The Yoga Sutras state that we must practice Santosha and Isvara Pranidhana as part of the eightfold path of Ashtanga Yoga. I love these two ideas and let's explore what they might mean. I believe that the latter leads directly to the former.
Santosha is sanskrit for contentment, and it is one of Patanjali's niyamas (observances). The idea is that you must be satisfied with what you have and whatever your lot is in life. You ought not desire more than you have, or to be different from who and what you already are right now. You don't need to go anywhere else other than where you are right now. Everywhere you go, there you are, anyways! This is the place, the time, and the person you are supposed to be. And you must become happy with those conditions, or else nothing else will make you happy. Practice gratitude and stay present. If I ever start to feel like I am lacking in any of those departments, I think of how much worse it COULD be. I am alive, can walk, I have food, shelter, work, family, etc. Although I am not free of afflictions, life is still very, very good. If you are reading this, the same is true for you.
Isvara Pranidhana means surrender to the lord. We are not supposed to talk about religion much anymore so I see how this concept might alienate some people if left at that. But, the 'lord' could mean anything, and does not need to be the same for each of us. For you, the lord might be Brahma, Christ, Buddha, Allah, Mother Earth, the universe, some unknown creator, or perhaps you do not believe in any of those. And that is good and alright. Although yoga is a Hindu practice and the Vedas and Upanishads (ancient texts) vacillate between the belief in one God, multiple gods and no gods (non-duality appears later in Vedanta), my studies of those have shown me that the proper definition of Isvara, or lord, seems to be: the one that dwells inside of us. The lord Isvara is the truest form of our self (Atman or Purusa), the unchanging, all knowing, purest manifestation of who we are. I think that version can work for anyone, despite what their other beliefs are. Surrendering ourselves to this meaning of lord, leads to contentment.
How do we surrender? We have to realize that no matter what we do, in the end, results are out of our control. No matter how hard we try to achieve something, the conditions may not exist for the object of our efforts to transpire. If we do get what we want, we still may lose it. We can put in as much work as we want, we can believe that we will succeed, we can have high hopes and lofty goals, but it is always the case that we may not attain what we set out to accomplish. Should we stop trying then? No! This is not a pessimistic viewpoint, but rather a realistic one. We need to continue on our paths and put forth our best work, because we are doing what we believe to be right, but... For real happiness we must give up those big expectations and desires of results. When we work without expectation and give without desire to get back, we can become engrossed in what we are doing, satisfied with the process and the pure intention, and hence we will never set ourselves up for disappointment. And here is where contentment comes in. When good things do come they are simply pleasant additions to the happiness we already enjoy. If they do not come though, we are not left sad because we avoided attachment to hopes and results in the first place.
So while you are moving along your path in life, or moving through your asana, pranayama and meditation practice, let go of expectations and results. Don't do yoga so you can show your friends a cool arm balance on facebook. Don't go to your job every day so you can buy a bigger house on a nicer street. Enjoy being where you are and doing what you are doing. Trust in your self, the lord within your heart, surrender to that, take a deep breath and watch contentment arise. Don't look outside for bliss, it's already inside.