Last week, we looked at the definition of contentment. I suggested we define contentment as “when what you have fulfills what you desire”. Discontentment comes when what you desire outweighs what you have. Today, we’re going to look at how you get from discontentment to contentment.
Visualizing Discontentment and Contentment
Last week, I used this image to depict discontentment:
Then I used this image to depict contentment:
Keep these illustrations in mind as we discuss how you get from discontentment to contentment.
If discontentment is a result of what you desire outweighing what you have, then you have two options to find contentment. Both options tip the scale in favor of “what you have”, but they do it in different ways. First, you can try to get the things you desire. The idea is that getting what you desire increases the weight of the “what you have” side of the scale – bringing you into a balance and leading to contentment.
Your second option is to give up some of the things you desire. This lightens the load on the “what you desire” side of the scale – again bringing you into a balance and leading to contentment.
Get What You Desire
The most common approach to finding contentment is to try to get the things you desire. This idea tells you that getting those things you crave will satisfy your cravings and you’ll finally be happy and content. But experience shows us that those who go down this path are never actually satisfied. They never find true contentment by fulfilling their desires. Meeting one desire simply leads to another, greater desire. Solomon noted this well in Ecclesiastes:
10 He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase: this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, those who eat them are increased; and what advantage is there to its owner, except to feast on them with his eyes?
Ecclesiastes 5:10-11 (WEB)
If all you desire is more wealth or a greater abundance, you will never actually be satisfied when you get more. You’ll just want even more, and after you get that you’ll still want more. When John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men in history, was asked “How much money is enough?” he replied “Just a little bit more.” His response is a clear example of the problem with desiring an abundance and always seeking to fulfill that desire. You’ll never get to a spot where you have enough. And finding your “enough” is key to finding contentment.
The other approach to finding contentment is to begin desiring less and appreciating what you already have. By giving up your cravings for the things you don’t have, you can find pleasure in enjoying the things you do have. You learn what your “enough” is, and you often find that it’s what you already have. The idea is that you can find happiness and contentment in your current situation if you free yourself from the idea that more is better.
Many people look at this path as striving for “the simple life”. All it really amounts to is defining your true needs and assessing whether those needs have been met. If they have, then you don’t need to desire anything else. If not, then you know exactly what you need to find the contentment you want.
The power in this approach comes from eliminating all the desires that are not truly yours. The media/business/consumerism teaches us that we need more stuff or better stuff – that’s the way they make money. But those are false teachings. We don’t really need a car that can go 0 to 60 in 4 seconds flat or that can parallel park itself. We don’t need a house with marble countertops, vaulted ceilings, closets as big as a bedroom, and an Olympic size swimming pool.
The truth is our needs are much simpler than what our consumer-driven economy would like us to realize. And we don’t find contentment or happiness in having more than what we truly need. Yes, those things may be “nice”, but they aren’t necessary for happiness and they won’t make you content. Focusing your life around getting nice things will distract you from finding true contentment.
Our lives don’t consist of the abundance of the things we own (Luke 12:15). Happiness is not found in what we own, and contentment cannot be achieved by having more. Finding satisfaction in having our needs met allows us to find the balance between what we have and what we desire.
When we define contentment as “when what you have fulfills what you desire”, anyone can achieve it. It’s a straightforward idea of contentment that’s really not all that difficult to accomplish.
But when I talk about contentment in Christ, I’m talking about a different kind of contentment. By contentment in Christ I mean being satisfied with what you have in any situation. I mean that Christ fulfills all your needs and all your desires. And finding contentment in Christ is the key to true contentment – peace and satisfaction in all circumstances.
Next week, I’m going to discuss contentment in Christ – what it means, why it’s possible, and the power it has over the world. Be sure to sign up for free updates to Provident Planning if you don’t want to miss it!
As always, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. So please leave a comment below and let me know what you think!
Paul, good stuff. I really like your definition of contentment, it helps me to really visualize it. Contentment is obviously an important topic in respect to finances and consumerism, but I’ve been struck recently with how important contentment is in regards to marriage and family. I’d have to think that the cause of so much adultery is lack of contentment. Anyway, I’m a huge Switchfoot fan and they have a great song “Faust, Midas and Myself” that addresses this. You should check it out and at least look up the lyrics, it’s a good reminder for me everytime I hear it. If you have contentment than the “routine” things in life can be full of joy.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Trent! I’m glad those pictures helped you visualize contentment. And you’re right about the importance of contentment in many other areas of our lives. Contentment in Christ gives us the power to find joy in any circumstance and especially in the “routine” things. I’ll definitely check out that song.