We live in an age where most people in Western nations have a good level of material prosperity, more things than we need to make us happy, and the power of immediate connection through social media and internet. And yet, we appear to have less contentment in our lives than ever.
Whereas fulfilment comes from the satisfaction of doing things well, contentment is more about being than doing. Discontent usually flows from deep inside us. Contentment flows out of a healthy sense of self.
I began to think about this topic while visiting Manilla in the Philippines a few years ago. We visited a slum area where a whole community was built on a rubbish tip. Children were playing soccer with a ‘ball’ made from matted paper waste. They had sores on their legs and their circumstances were less than ideal, and yet the delight on their faces showed a level of contentment which often eludes children from wealthier countries who have so much more stuff and opportunity.
What is contentment?
Contentment is a soul at rest. A content person has come to terms with who they are. They can celebrate their strengths. They have accepted areas of their life where they are not skilled. They have learned to be grateful for what they have. They focus on the opportunities all around them rather than being frustrated by what they do not have or others who seem to have it easier or better than them. They have decided to take responsibility for their life. There is no desire to blame others for what is lacking in their world.
Contentment is learned.
In the first century, the Apostle Paul was a passionate man with a burning ambition to preach the good news of Jesus to the communities around the Mediterranean Sea. Contentment was not something that came to him naturally. Later in his life, he wrote this from a Roman jail:
“I have learned to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything through the One who makes me who I am.” (Philippians 4:13-14 Msg)
Of all the lessons we learn in life, contentment is one of the most important. Many find it elusive and remain frustrated and even bitter all through their life.
I have experienced a level of contentment with my life over the past year that I have not known before. Facing down a cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy and major surgery has led to a sharper perspective and a new level of gratefulness in my life. I still have ambitions. In fact, I just signed up for a business speakers course today that I hope will enable me to become more proficient and more in demand as a speaker at Business Conferences and events once Covid restrictions lift.
The addition of a little Cavoodle puppy to our lives in November has also been a wonderful settling experience. I’m not sure I would have been a very good dog owner in the past. I was always too busy. Now, it is an absolute delight to walk or sit with my little mate and enjoy the moments in every day. He does me good and together, Jo and I are able to give him a great life.
Misconceptions about contentment:
- Contentment does not mean I have achieved all my goals. It does not mean that all is done, and all is well. The contented soul can be at peace even when things are not going well and there is much to do.
- Contentment does not mean I have no ambition. There is more vision in my heart. I’m just not driven anymore to please or to perform by some inner pressure that was often counter-productive.
- Contentment does not mean I am not competitive. I am still playing cricket each weekend and love to do well. I enjoy winning a close game of golf or tennis, or Yahtzee or monopoly.
- Contentment is not just about old age and retirement – in fact, many older people I know struggle with contentment more than most. Often this is because they have been too busy throughout life to process disappointment well.
Contentment leads to joy
The contented person enjoys more moments of their life each and every day. It is even a joy to take a little time to thoroughly chew my food rather than wolfing it down in a functional way because other tasks are pressing. It is wonderful to drive safely within the speed limit and savour the scenery a little more rather than always rushing and being frustrated by other drivers who are in my way.
I encourage you to reflect on this theme and aim to add new levels of contentment into your life this year.