For a long time, I believed I was supposed to be content.
I thought contentment meant maturing beyond my consumerism, greed, gluttony, and selfishness. I thought contentment was the natural outpouring of gratitude and the embodiment of joy.
Contentment was so important to me, I tried to talk myself into it. I would mentally list all the amazingly wonderful parts of my life. I would breathe deep, basking in appreciation and think I had achieved contentment.
But it never lasted.
Instead, it became a cycle where I created more discontent by criticizing myself for (you guessed it!) — my lack of contentment.
Although contentment seemed like a kind of antidote to my most selfish desires, these days I see contentment as another form of self-absorption.
Now I value the power of discontent and here’s why.
Discontent pushes me to do more.
Contentment suggests “more” is the enemy, but it’s not.
In the midst of criticizing myself for wanting more when I already have so much, I realized sometimes wanting more is okay. I don’t want more stuff (another car, nicer clothes, a bigger house, etc.), but I do want to do more with my life.
I want to be more than a recipient and consumer.
Have you ever thought about that—about how contentment can be self-serving?
For example, I’ve taken hours and hours of classes about the Bible. It’s a book that fascinates me. It helps me understand myself and teaches me about others. For a long time, I’ve been content to absorb the information as if it were only for me.
The whisper of discontent spurred me to teach a class sharing what I had learned. Teaching that class lead me to Seminary and serving a church. In this way, my discontent transformed consumption into something less self-serving.
I need to find ways to make those transformations happen because otherwise, I can be content in a very unhealthy way. I can be contentedly self-absorbed.
Maybe you’re like me.
Maybe you see how much good there is in your life and you think you should be content. Maybe you think, “I have a lot to be thankful for. I shouldn’t want more.”
We can be grateful for all the good in our lives and still be discontent.
For me, the real challenge is not to let the comforts of my life lull me into laziness.
Instead of allowing contentment to become another exercise in selfishness, I want to harness the power of discontent. I’m learning I can either contentedly admire the fruits of my labor or I can pick the fruit and feed my neighbor.
When contentment is akin to complacency, we’re better off with discontentment.
I no longer see discontentment as a failure to mature. In fact, maybe it’s the opposite?
I’m on a journey for joy, purpose, and gratitude, but not complacent contentedness.
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Originally published September 25, 2014.