Learning to be Content

Contentment is in pretty short supply in our country and in our culture because the advertising industry tries to create discontent in our lives. Look at any website that sells products and you’ll find lots of stuff to make you discontent. New clothes, updated technology, faster cars, bigger houses…everything is presented to influence you to be discontent so you’ll buy their products.

If we believe the advertising, we really need to buy whatever they are selling in order to be happy. Yet none of these things will add any significant value to our life.

And there lies the problem. All too often discontent leads us to use debt to buy things we don’t really need and things that will never really satisfy us. Any time you buy something in an effort to be happy, so that you can keep up with your neighbors, or any other reasons you may use to justify your spending, that item will never make you happy for more than a few days, if not a few hours.

We live in a consumer society that operates on the assumptions that more is always better and happiness is based on acquiring more stuff. And guess what? Those people who are really wealthy; the ones who earn 10 or 20 times what you earn and buy all the stuff you so desperately want aren’t any happier than you are.

If you’re not content with what you have, you’ll never be content when you get what you want.

Paul wrote Philippians 4:11-13 from a prison cell. He said: “I have learned to be content in whatever my circumstances. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in 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 Christ who strengthens me.” 

Paul “learned” the secret of being content. Contentment, is not an instinct we’re born with, we must learn it.

What does it mean to be content? Happiness is a temporary feeling whereas contentment is a longer lasting, deeper feeling of satisfaction and gratitude that goes beyond the stuff we have. Contentment is being satisfied with the spiritual blessings, people and relationships we have.  Contentment looks beyond money and things and focuses on the meaningful parts of life.

Scientific evidence suggests that being content has major benefits for your health.  It may help combat stress, boost your immune system, protect your heart and reduce pain. What’s more, it may even increase your life expectancy.

By being content we have the potential to change many other lives just by being ourselves. As people learn from our attitudes and actions, the benefits of contentment are passed from you to others. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all discover the joy of being content? Being content with what you have is a real blessing—whether you have a little or a lot.

The first foundation of contentment is being grateful for what we do have. As Americans we live in one of the richest countries that ever existed. Even if you are barely making ends meet, you are still among the richest people on earth when compared to the standard of living in most other countries.

The second foundation of being content is realizing that the Lord has given us exactly what he knows is best for us for the moment. He loves us completely and  He knows what’s best for us whether it’s a lot or a little.

Have you ever felt that “if only” you had more money. Then you’d finally be satisfied and happy and content? If you’re not content with what you have today, you’ll never be content when you get that nicer home, or that newer car or more money.

Please understand; I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to improve ourselves. We should. As stewards of God’s blessings and the talents we’ve been given, we should always seek to improve our circumstances. But improving our circumstances does not always mean accumulating things and buying stuff. A never ending quest for more money and more stuff can be very dangerous spiritually.  

In 1 Tim 6:8, we read “If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that.”

Verse 9 goes on to say “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.”

And verse 10 warns us WHY wanting to get rich is so harmful: “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.”

The poorest people can be content, while all the money in the world can’t make you content. Look at all the wealthy people who are miserable.

As St. Paul said, he had to learn the secret of contentment. We aren’t born being content and like St Paul, we also need to learn to be content.

So if you struggle with being content, meditate on Phil 4:11-13. Pray for the Lord to help you become content. Being content has nothing to do with how much stuff you have or how new your stuff is. It has everything to do with learning to ignore our culture and listen instead to that small, still, quite voice of God.

Listen to the Compass Catholic Podcast, Manage Your Money God’s way podcast for more on contentment.

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