I was thinking last week, as we celebrated Thanksgiving, that contentedness seems in short supply these days.
I admit, it’s hard to be content when the marketing geniuses on Madison Avenue produce alluring advertisements that promise us immediate happiness, robust health and so forth if we only buy their products. And it’s hard to be content when for decades the Rolling Stones have powerfully expressed a feeling so easy to parrot: “I can’t get no … satisfaction.” But even the poorest among us here in the US, compared to many (if not most) people in many other countries, actually have quite a lot for which we can be thankful and with which we might … just might … be content.
One approach to contentment was suggested by St. Paul to the church in Philippi:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
And in Richard III Shakespeare poetically expressed how discontentment can be alleviated by the arrival and ascendance to prominence of a cherished friend or loved one: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York.” It’s not that the winter of Richard’s discontent is now occurring, but that it’s now been turned to glorious summer — though Richard clearly does not know the secret to true contentedness, as his discontent returns and his ambition asserts itself.
(Image: “Be content with what you have…,” by Nick Kenrick, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)
I saw a “meme” on Facebook a few weeks ago that said, “… be content with what you’ve done and be proud of who you are.” It’s available with a variety of background images, and sometimes attributed to mainstream writer Steve Almond, but that idea seems backward to me.
To me, it’s better to be content with who we are and proud of what we’ve done.
The other formulation puffs us up, gives us inflated egos or overlarge senses of self-importance even if we have done very little. It seems healthier to approach life with as clear an image of ourselves and our capabilities as we can develop, and to put in the effort to produce things we can be proud of, whether things we do for hire or sale, or things we undertake out of love or enjoyment — not perfect things, not necessarily “great” things or “better” things than what others have done, but things we can look upon with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
But beyond that, and part of why I’ve been thinking about all this for the past few days, it seems best to be thankful for who we are and what we can do — to look back at what we’ve done and be proud of it, yes, but to continue to live with gratitude in the present and look forward with anticipation to the future.
I don’t know if that’s the secret to being content, but I’m giving it a try.