The (Forgotten) Art of Contentment

Let me venture to ask myself a very hard question … if nothing were to ever change in my life between now and the day I die, would I be able to say “I am content”?

Sure, I may be able to wriggle around for a while and finally convince myself that I really am satisfied with my life. After much soul searching I may be able to realize that everything I need in life is right here in front of me …

… but on a day-to-day basis, do I believe that? Do I live as if it were true?

——

Everything about our “Western” culture conditions us to be dissatisfied and/or discontent. We are by far the most well-off and, some may say, spoiled culture ever to live on the face of this great planet and yet it seems more people suffer from depression or feelings of inadequacy or insecurity than in other times of history or in other parts of our world today.

Think of the (so called) social media we use. Studies show that, unsurprisingly, these methods of communication, while allowing us to feel more connected to people around us, are actually making us increasingly sad.

No matter how wonderful our lives may be, we naturally are measuring ourselves by the standards of people around us. And, as social scientists will tell us, this is a sure recipe for feelings of insecurity and sadness because we always seem to naturally value what others have more than those things we have for ourselves.

A friend posts about a fantastic vacation they just completed … and we bemoan the fact that we’ve simply been at home working in the garden. An acquaintance writes about how amazing their week at work has been and we console ourselves because our week has been incredibly difficult and we could get nothing meaningful done.

Or, more subtly, think about our consumer culture that constantly tells us that if we would just purchase _____ we would feel better, happier and more fulfilled.

Our entire economy is centred around dissatisfaction. If people were satisfied with their lives, our economy would seriously slow to crawl. Every product that exists is an attempt to provide a solution to a real or imagined problem in our lives. And marketers (like myself) play on our insecurities and feelings of dissatisfaction in an attempt to convince people that we have the key to making your life complete and happy.

And it actually works …… even if it never lasts more than a few days.

We buy a new car and feel very good about the purchase. We love the way people look at us and our new toy. We post about it on social networks and get lots of praise and adoration, which feels good.

For a moment.

And then the void returns and a new product catches our eye. A new solution presents itself.

And so the hamster-wheel spins around and around with no true contentment to be found because we are chasing after a vapour that cannot be captured.

Or, finally, think of our work culture, which is constantly moving and looking for “improvement” and “success”. There is never a moment that lasts longer than a few days where we can sit back and look at what we have achieved in our jobs and just enjoy our success.

The clock is ticking and next week’s/month’s/year’s results need to improve on what we have just completed. To be content with what we have achieved is a recipe for disaster; in extreme situations it could even mean the loss of our position or the downfall of the company.

We are captured by the myth that continual progress is possible and we should strive to constantly reach for more.

More …

More …

This is the key to what we are told to seek … more … better … reach higher … go farther … more … (this thinking can even creep into our relationship with God; we must do more, be more, seek more).

——

The art of contentment is a forgotten art. In fact, I would suggest it is an art that is impossible on our own.

Hidden by a book many find fairly depressing — possibly because it is arresting in our consumeristic, progress-focused culture — the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that spending all our time pursuing things that are temporary is a road toward futility. Instead of striving for that one more thing that will bring meaning to your life, he says;

“There is nothing better for people than to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in their work. I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God.”

– Ecclesiastes 2:24 (and repeated in chapters 3, 5, 8 & 9)

This is one of the keys to leading a wise life full of meaning — find contentment, satisfaction and enjoyment in the simple things.

Instead of saying “If I can just _________, then I will __________,” we can be thankful for what we have been given. This will allow us to re-focus our lives around things that are truly significant rather than things that are fleeting and quickly disappear.

I’m looking to God to help myself (and others) to just be content.

More is not what matters in life.

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