Seek to strive for contentment? Doesn’t that make you lazy or stuck or not growing?
In our culture where stressing and striving is rewarded and enough is never enough, can contentment be a worthy goal?
I say that contentment is what we should be striving for.
The Dictionary’s Definition of Contentment
The Cambridge Dictionary says, “Contentment means happiness and satisfaction, often because you have everything you need.”
Needing something is a lot different than wanting something.
Do you really need that shirt in thirteen colors? Do you really need the latest and greatest whatever it is if what you have is enough?
This is not to say that you can’t enjoy nice things or fulfill your heart’s desires. It’s about overcoming the never enoughness that leaves you still wanting, empty, and discontented.
You Get to Choose Contentment
You are the author of your life. That means you get to choose to be content or be discontented.
Two great examples of this choosing are these words from Holocaust survivor and author, Victor Frankl who wrote this in his beautiful book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The second is from the apostle Paul. While Philippians is a called a book in the Bible, it is actually a letter written to the Christians at Philippi while he was in prison. Even while in prison, he was full of joy. The words joy, rejoice or some other form of these words are used eighteen times.
When I think of the word content, this passage always comes to mind. Philippians 4:11-13
“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (NRSV)
Seeking, Finding, and Still not Content?
When I worked at Clear Channel Radio, I was fortunate to take part in a three-day workshop put on by the Gallup organization. It was based on 34 themes from the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment.
The dominant choices show up in five Signature Themes. The purpose for determining your top five themes is to allow you to focus on your core strengths to enjoy personal and career success through consistent – and what they say – near perfect performance.
Two of my top strengths are Achiever and Learner. Achiever is just that. I’m always wanting to go after something. And as a Learner, I always want to be learning.
But the achieving part can certainly lead to discontentment. I can easily suffer from not feeling like I’m being or doing enough.
Find Contentment in your Finding
Another set of verses that come to mind is Matthew 7:7-8
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (NIV)
In all your seeking, don’t miss the contentment in finding. We don’t use the word rejoice very much. But it’s a joyful word. You can’t help but put a smile on your face when you say, “Rejoice.” Rejoice when you find something. Let your mind and heart be lighter. Bask a while in being content.
Govinda was the friend of Siddartha. Both were searching for enlightenment. They journeyed on this quest together but parted ways.
At the end of the book (spoiler alert if you haven’t read it and wish to), Govinda goes in search of a ferryman who is regarded as very wise.
Govinda says, “You’re very good to us monks and pilgrims, you have already ferried many of us across the river. Aren’t you too, ferryman, a searcher for the right path?”
The ferryman, smiling from his old eyes replies: “Do you call yourself a searcher, oh venerable one, though you are already old in years and are wearing the robe of Gotama’s monks?”
“It’s true, I’m old,” spoke Govinda, “but I haven’t stopped searching. I’ll never stop searching. This seems to be my destiny. You too, so it seems to me, have been searching. Would you like to tell me something, oh honorable one?”
The ferryman responds, “What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you’re searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don’t find the time for finding?”
“How come?” asked Govinda.
“When someone is searching,” said the ferryman, “then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal.
But finding means being free, being open, having no goal. You, oh venerable one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because, striving for your goal, there are many things you don’t see, which are directly in front of your eyes.”
The ferryman standing in front of his eyes is Siddartha. Govinda finally sees him.
When I find myself being anxious and discontent, I understand what Robert was wanting to convey to me. Now I say to myself, “Peace Govinda.” : )
A Goal Setting Formula: Seek, Strive, be Content
Seeking and striving to accomplish a goal is worthy. But if you are always moving onto the next goal, never feeling that enough is enough, you will miss the joy in experiencing contentment.
I had coffee with my friend Dale Furtwengler, a very successful business consultant and author. The reason for the meeting was that I wanted to learn more about how Dale became so successful in his consulting practice.
What I received from our visit was so much more.
I was struck by his gentleness and confidence. He shared invaluable business insights with me. But it was his philosophy on life that stuck with me. It is twofold: 1) to have a contented mind and 2) believing in whatever he needs in his life and business will show up.
A Contented Mind
He has a Thomas Kinkade tapestry which hangs just inside his bedroom door so that he sees it every morning when he starts his day. It reads:
“A contented mind is the greatest blessing a man can enjoy in this world.”Joseph Addison
What You Need Will Show Up
Dale’s big story of whatever he needed would show up, turned out to be one that saved his life. He worked out and had torn a pectoral muscle. At the age of 63 he knew that his doctor was going to want to do some stress tests. They found some blockage and stents were required. He was told that after the procedure he would be in good shape.
When they performed the surgery, however, it was much worse than they expected. He ended up needing a quadruple bypass. That was two years ago. He sat in front of me with a peaceful, smiling presence looking nowhere close to the age of 65.
He continued to say that the pectoral muscle showed up so that his heart would be taken care of. He said it’s been this way his whole life. Whatever he needed always showed up.
The Key to Contentment is a Contented Mind
The apostle Paul has more wise words in Philippians 4:8-9:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. And the God of peace will be with you.” (NRSV)
When your mind is focused on thoughts of fear of failure or fear of success, anxiety, worry, lack, measuring or comparing yourself to others, self-condemnation, or never getting enough done, you can’t enjoy peace and contentment.
Keep striving to reach what lofty goals you have. But also seek to strive for contentment as you do the work it takes to reach those goals. That’s how you can live life with greater joy and FLOW.
If a discontent mind hijacks your peace, these guided meditations can help cultivate a contented mind.