The Power of ContentmentPosted: June 6, 2011
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There’s always something better out there. Never stop striving for the next big thing. You can’t be happy until you have (insert trendy product here). Your stuff is obsolete, it’s time to get new stuff. These are the lies that we are told by our culture. Our culture is one of discontentment.
Mass media advertising works primarily by sowing the seeds of discontentment. The mantra of “create a need, then fill it,” pervades the messages that are piped into our homes on a daily basis. We are told what should today’s object of desire, and then given the means to satisfy that desire through a purchase. The desire then subsides, only to be awakened again by more artificially created needs. The cycle of discontentment continues indefinitely, and we become slaves to desires that we did not even know we had until we were told so.
Breaking the Cycle of Discontentment
The first step towards breaking the cycle is recognizing that it exists. We have the tendency to run a lot of our lives on “autopilot,” especially in our media consumption. We should check this habit, and try to be more aware of the messages that we are being given. Realize that all media has an agenda, without necessarily making a value judgment on the agenda, and be conscious of the fact that the majority of product advertising has the intended or unintended consequence of continuing the cycle of discontentment.
Another helpful exercise in combating the cycle of discontentment is to reflect on past experience. Has any product that you have bought fully satisfied your desires? Or is there always that nagging feeling that there’s something else out there that you “need?” That’s the cycle continuing in your life.
The cycle of discontentment is a wholly harmful process. It hurts us financially, mentally, relationally, and spiritually. We spend more than we ought, we focus our energies on things rather than people, and we focus on this world rather than that which is above.
The Power of Contentment
It’s about time that we rediscover the power of contentment. Looking at our lives from a position of contentment is far more fulfilling and has noticeable, positive effects in our lives. When we learn contentment, we no longer focus on acquiring, but on making the most of our possessions. We are able to use our resources to be a positive force in the lives of other people rather than using them to satisfy our own desires for more.
Our basic needs are food, water, shelter, and clothing. Once those are met, everything beside those is a want. Wanting things in and of itself is not bad, we all want things, but it is important to make that distinction to keep things in perspective. If your basic needs are met, more likely than not, you can be content with what you have — perhaps even less. This is a very freeing truth!
Contentment is not a condition of having all of our wants met; it is a condition of not wanting more than we have. Now, nobody is in a state of “perfect contentment” — I’m sure even the most devout monk who has renounced all worldly possessions wants a good book every once in a while — however, we can all take more steps in that direction. Consider all the good things that you have right now, and all the people that would consider themselves fortunate to be in your position. This does not have to be limited to physical objects, either. Family, friends, employment, health; we all certainly have things to be thankful for.
When we learn to be content with what we have, we no longer feel the pressure to keep up our patterns of consumption, because we are not living to satisfy artificial desires. This is the great freedom in contentment. Learning the virtue of contentment is a vital step toward a more fulfilling life.