Contentment is sometimes confused with happiness, although they can be connected, they are not the same. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that is usually a reaction to outside influences. We seek happiness and sometimes seek it to sooth our discontent. Being content, to me, means appreciating what you have on a continual basis. Remember that many of the great things you have now you did not have before. And if you don’t have things, take a personal inventory of your strengths; self-respect, stamina, endurance, surviving, the will to press on, the striving to be better.
By nature, we are discontented. Marketers make full use of this fact and it is easy for them to create want and need in us. But being contented does not mean that you don’t want more or better. It means that you appreciate what you have and who you are. That better things might exist but you do not disregard what you have or neglect those you love because of your desire for something better.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Paul wrote this while he was imprisoned for ministering. He goes on to say in verses 12 -13, “ I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (NIV) Paul’s contentment was not based on his situation or circumstance but on his reliance and relationship with Christ.
Notice, that Paul says that he “learned” to be content. It is not an easy thing. We all yearn for more. We might say, “if I only had a bigger house, I would be happy.” A realtor can sell you a house, but a realtor cannot sell you a home. You might say, “if I only made more money or had a better job, I would be happy.” You might be happier but you may not be content. There are so many stories of the rich and famous who die bitter and lonely, for their money did not buy them what is truly important.
Contentment is an attitude, a mindset. Happiness is a choice. Contentment comes from within. Even during trials, one can be content and not happy. Contented people are more positive, more confident in themselves because they know who they are. They might not be happy with certain aspects of their selves or their situation but are content in knowing that they are improving themselves and accepting of those things they cannot change.
A contented person’s positive attitude can improve things at their jobs or open opportunities for other work. Their mindset can improve their relationships. Their positive attitude can be infectious and help others see the blessings that abound.
So how does one learn to be content? It definitely takes practice. I believe that one key to contentment is to have an attitude of gratitude. Be thankful to God for all the blessings that He provides. Thank others for their good deeds towards you, no matter how small, and remember to appreciate those around you. Let your loved ones know that you love them.
Examine what you have and appreciate that you have those things. What if you didn’t have them? Who are you? What do you want your living example to say about you? Accept the things you cannot change and move forward to improve the things you can. It is not wrong to want better, just realize where you are, appreciate what you have and move forward from there.
We come into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing. (1 Timothy 6:6-7) We leave behind all the possessions that we accumulated and all the money we made. But you also leave behind your relationships. You will dwell for a while in the hearts and minds of those lives you touched. These relationships are to be built now and everyday. When you see the strength of these relationships grow, contentment will grow as well.
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, saw the value of contentedness saying, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Paul found his strength in his beliefs. He had faith that God would not fail him. His relationship with God is the core of his contentment. We can have that too. Although we have to practice and learn to have this mindset, it certainly is possible.
My hope for you is to have much happiness and lasting contentment.