Contentment: Wanting What I Have

My crown is in my heart, not in my head,
Nor decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen; my crown is called contentment;
A crown it is, that seldom kings enjoy.
~William Shakespeare, Henry VI

In this age of instant gratification, instant messaging, and instant coffee, living a life of contentment demands a delicate balance of ambition and apathy. Not only should we be content with such things as we have, but we should also strive to pursue excellence and personal growth. It is in the image of the proverbial scales that we find a visual definition of the fragility of contentment. I would dare  say that being content is a momentary pursuit, one that commands both dedication and repose.

The Equilibrium of Contentment

Equilibrium, defined as “a state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced,” perfectly illustrates the necessity of both ambition and apathy as requirements for contentment. While ambition is the desire to achieve, apathy is the lack of desire.

Think about it: without the ambition to achieve goals, we attain nothing. Without the lack of desiring more than we have, we become restless and discontent with our lives. There has to be a balance between wanting what we have and pursuing what we want. We have to be content and visionary. It all comes down to being consumed by acquisition or consuming our life with contentment.

Charles Spurgeon said it best: “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

The following is a clipping from Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner: “That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me thirty minutes. It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow. The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.”  

Taking it a Step Further

My husband and I went out to lunch with his boss (free pie day at Village Inn!) and discussed the issue of contentment. I brought up this blog post and how I was “gelling” my thoughts on the subject. As a parent of a five year old boy and a ten year old girl, he had an interesting perspective on contentment. “You have to have a balance between how you achieve contentment and how you teach your children to be content,” he said. “Hopefully, your life experiences have brought a sense of maturity; that maturity is defined by your contentment level.” He then described how his children see the fancy new toys, the extroverted personalities, and the height differences in their friends, but they have to learn how to be content with what they have, even at their young ages. Together with his wife, he is consistently teaching them to appreciate what they have and who they are. Contentment is not something to be achieved; contentment is a state of being.”

Parenting brought contentment to a whole new level for me. I was thinking of contentment as being happy with my career, my electronics, my house, I wasn’t even considering the fact of teaching contentment to a child! Being content with what you have is one thing; communicating how you came to be content is another. I can only pray that when our time comes, my husband and I will have this contentment thing down!

Making it Personal

  • I don’t have an iphone; I do have a cell phone that calls my loved ones.
  • I don’t have the latest fashionista must-haves; I do have a closet overflowing with colorful clothes that fit.
  • I don’t drive a Pontiac Sky (my favorite); I do have a car that gets awesome gas mileage and looks nice.
  • I don’t live in a Florida mansion; I do live in a comfortable house filled to the brim with love, laughter, and joy.
  • I do have a husband who loves me.
  • I do have a job that pays my bills and lets me save a bit each month.
  • I do have friends that love me.
  • I do have a church that meets my needs.
  • I truly do have a wonderful life

How do you define contentment? If someone asked you about contentment, what would you say?


Happiness, Joy, and Contentment: the Trifecta of Satisfaction

At my previous job, the executive board would present awards and recognitions to employees at the Christmas banquet. One year, they held a company-wide contest to determine which employees best exemplified a list of sixty character traits, including honesty, perseverance, and selflessness. We were all given a sheet of paper and told to assign the name of an employee to each trait. My department was surprised to find out that each person received a peer-voted character trait of their own; my character trait was joyful.

Since receiving this award, I’ve often contemplated the nature of happiness vs. joy. In my own faltering definitions, I would describe happiness as a reactionary feeling, while joy is an state of being that radiates from within. In other words, happiness is a byproduct and joy is a character trait. I am not an etymologist, nor do I claim any type of authority on root words and original languages, but let’s work on the assumption that these definitions are true. If we expound upon them, we can surmise that it is possible for a person to be joyful without being or appearing happy, but happiness is a result of joy. If so, let’s take this a step further into contentment. Contentment may be defined as desiring no more than what one has; to be satisfied.

Contentment (or satisfaction) breeds joy, which in turn creates happiness. Does it stand to reason that a person needs to feel contentment to feel true joy and/or happiness? In my experience, “happy” and “joy” are used synonymously, but “content” is hardly interchangeable. “I am happy” or “I feel joyful” is easy; “I am content” is a whole different ballgame. Often my attitude is mirrored by my circumstances. “I am content with my job today; therefore, I am happy to do whatever is asked of me.” “I am not content with how this project is turning out; therefore, I am not happy with my work.” “I can’t be joyful today! Did you see how my pants are fitting?” (“I am not content with my caffeine level, forget joyfulness!”)

If I am not content with my current state of existence, I may experience temporal bursts of happiness, but I will never experience true, lasting joy. If I am not filled with joy, I will not affect my world or bring about change. If I do not display happiness in my countenance, how can I expect to bring happiness to others? I don’t want to live my life just for me; I want to matter. I want to make a difference. I want to experience joy, radiate happiness, live contentment. I want to be satisfied not only in my work productivity and publications, but also in my state of existence.

How do I do that? Constant introspection, evaluation of motives, and implementation of principles. Happiness cannot be contrived, joyfulness cannot be faked, contentment cannot be forced. Our Trifecta of Satisfaction can be found when we acknowledge our limitations, accept our insecurities, and strive for deeper understanding of contentment. Knowing, all the while, that we are in the center of where we should be and are seeking to go further into what we could be. I know that I am where God wants me. I am content, joyful, and happy here. It is here that I am satisfied.

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.  ~James Openheim

One filled with joy preaches without preaching. ~Mother Theresa

For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. ~Philippians 4:11