Like many other abstract words, contentment is difficult to define. The dictionary definition leads us on a merry chase when it tells us that contentment is satisfaction, but defines satisfaction as happiness. We continue going round and round with each word defining the other, yet telling us almost nothing about what contentment actually is. It would be easy to cop out and say that what defines contentment, satisfaction or happiness is up to each of us. That’s accurate to a point, but there’s more to consider.
In our world, we regularly connect contentment with our level of material security. However, we’ve continually upped the ante on what that means and most people (at least those in developed countries) are still not content. Virtually all of us can look at someone else’s possessions and decide that in comparison, we aren’t as secure or content as we would like to be. In fact, it’s the duty of a capitalist system to continually plant the idea in the minds of the buying public that they do not have enough to be content (and probably never will). None-the-less, the idea is to make us believe that contentment can be found in the next purchase while advertisers begin preparing us for the one after that. They’ve been so successful manipulating us, we now somehow equate contentment with continual, insatiable acquisition. While this makes a few very rich, this is a no win situation for most of us, and for the planet.
For years, news articles have been warning us that we’re living far past the earth’s ability to respond to our increased appetites. In 2006, the World Wildlife Fund estimated that “Humans are stripping nature at an unprecedented rate and will need two planet’s worth of natural resources every year by 2050 based on current trends…If everyone around the world lived as those in America, we would need five planets to support us.” No doubt you’ve seen the same type of article, but as Voltaire so cleverly put it, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,” and so we all go on thinking that it’s someone else whose over-the-top lifestyle is out of hand.
In the five years since those WWF statements were made, a world-wide economic crisis has swept the globe leaving the rich even richer while reducing much of the middle-class to poverty. Still, instead of rethinking what has brought us to this state, the desire to be among the super-rich continues to grow as discontent increases. The most interesting fact in the equation of discontent is that many of the super-rich have found no more satisfaction than anyone else. Over 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau observed in Walden:
Men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not for want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries…I have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters…our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad neighborhood is our own scurvy self.
As we said earlier, contentment, satisfaction and happiness are all abstract. Like clouds floating past us, we believe they’re within our grasp, but when we reach for them there’s nothing solid to hold onto. As soon as we try to define contentment, we set ourselves up for the opposite. The moment we list what it would take for us to feel content, we’ve told ourselves what’s lacking. If we’re listening to the world’s belief that we must continually push for more; we continue to chase the ephemeral and end up constantly running on our own self-made treadmill. Considering the dualistic thought system our world is based on, few other options are available to us unless we’re willing to change our thought system. This means stepping outside of the so-called ‘norms’ expounded by society.
Contentment, satisfaction and happiness are all transient when we look for them outside ourselves. But the paradox is that in duality, there is nowhere else to look. Imperturbable contentment originates within. It is a state of perfect security founded on our oneness with the Divine. When we see all as one and one as all, we realize nothing outside us can deprive us of anything real. At that point, contentment is ours whether we have much or little materially. We can enjoy whatever we have without becoming attached to it since we understand that things may offer some comfort and enjoyment, but no real security. This is proven again and again when those who thought they had covered all their bases on a material level find that a natural disaster, an accident or an illness sweeps it all away and they find that they have nothing inside to carry them. Jesus gave the formula for contentment when he said:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also…Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on…Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them...And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil or spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…Seek first his kingdom…and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:19-33)
Yes, many religionists are currently preaching a God that wants you to be rich and acts like a genie from a bottle, granting your every wish. They are obviously not taking into account the fact that the earth could not possibly sustain such high demands if everyone had everything they desired. At the other extreme are those who insist a life of renunciation and asceticism are God’s will. Instead, we would suggest that when we let go of this world’s thinking and connect with the One Mind of the Divine, what we have or don’t have in this world becomes irrelevant. Our treasures will be stored in the heart of oneness and contentment will possesses us instead of our trying to possess it.
Lee and Steven Hager are the authors of several books featuring the synergy of science, spirituality and gnosis including The Gospel of Thomas: Where Science Meets Spirituality
Visit The Beginning of Fearlessness Website and blog: http://www.thebeginningoffearlessness.com