The five Niyamas (personal observances for the yogi-in-training) together comprise the second of the eight limbs of Yoga as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Santosha is the second of these five niyamayas.
Santosha means contentment or acceptance with what we have, where we are, or whatever situation we are in. Santosha is closely related to equanimity, in that practicing it allows one to accept whatever circumstances present themselves, including pleasure, pain, success, or failure. Krishna emphasizes to Arjuna the importance of such equanimity in the Bhagavad Gita.
The word Santosha comes from the prefix Saṃ- and Tosha from the root tuṣ. Saṃ- means “with” "completely", “together,” “absolutely,” or “entirely,” and Tosha means “to be satisfied,” “contentment,” “acceptance,” "being comfortable.” The word Santosha means "completely content with, or satisfied with, accepting and comfortable.” It means “pleasure,” “satisfaction,” “delight,” “joy,” “connectedness,” “to be joined or connected to.”
In his book Inside Patanjali’s Words, Reverend Jaganath Carrera says, “Santosha is not about creating contentment by collecting as many pleasant objects and experiences as possible. The word carries a sense of being connected to something. To what? A clue to understanding santosha can be found in Hindu mythology in which santosha is personified as a son of the god Dharma and the goddess Tushti. Dharma, literally defined as ‘that which holds together,’ is defined as duty, spiritual teachings, and living according to the way of wisdom. Tushti means contentment. Santosha, then, is not just feeling good about the way things are going in your life. It is experienced when contentment is wedded to, or arises from, wisdom. It is not based on material attainments. Since wisdom is by nature stable, santosha is a stable happiness that exceeds pleasure based on the accumulation of possessions or accomplishments, or on the satisfaction of any sense desire. Those who experience santosha know the deep satisfaction that results from being fully integrated into the flow of life” (p.196).
In her Focus of the Month essay called “Niyamas” from January 2001, Sharon Gannon says about santosha, “Contentment is independence from external conditions. Don’t look for happiness or comfort in external circumstances because those conditions are always subject to change. We will never be truly happy in an external situation. Instead control the mind, the internal thermostat. Elevate the mind so that you can perceive the world without conflicts. Swami Sivananda’s advice is helpful here, ‘Adapt, adjust, accommodate.’ How do we do this?: Tapas, the next niyama” (read Sharon’s essay here). In other words, yogis are at home wherever they find themselves.
What is the benefit of becoming established in santosha? Unparalleled, supreme happiness that is not based on anything external to ourselves. Yoga Sutra 2.42 tells us that “Contentment (santosha) brings supreme happiness.” Another translation says, “By contentment, the swift, easy flow of supreme joy is attained.” We might think of santosha as both an attitude and as a state of deep inner peace or contentment. Through practicing santosha, yogis are ultimately freed from cravings and desires. When freed from such influences, we are also free to pursue our own callings without fear or manipulation. This freedom is an essential part of spiritual development.