A colleague recently told a group of ministers how his church grew from two hundred to twelve hundred in fifteen years by constantly setting goals and then achieving them. One day he realized they were addicted to their desires and in all this time were never really satisfied. How many people spend their lives striving but never arriving? They are addicted to attaining more but never really finding satisfaction.
In our society, success is often equated with outer achievements such as wealth, fame and social status, at the expense of being content. A visitor to New York City was looking up at the tall skyscrapers where people were busily rushing about and said, “You Americans sure do give the world something to look up to, except a state of mind.” Aristotle taught that the highest human good was the attainment of happiness. What are we trying to achieve, if not happiness? Jesus taught that if we seek first the kingdom of God, then outer things would come as well, without sacrificing inner well-being. I believe that practicing contentment is an important way that we can put spiritual things first.
The apostle Paul demonstrated that being content is a choice. Despite many hardships such as being jailed numerous times, nearly dying in a ship wreck, and much persecution, he declared, “I have learned in whatever situation I find myself to be content.” Contentment has been referred to by Yoga sages as the “supreme virtue.”
Just as we have developed a habit of being discontent, we can develop a habit of contentment. Many people celebrated Thanksgiving this past week, which is a wonderful reminder to develop the habit of being grateful for the good that is in our life right now, which perhaps we have taken for granted. It is a good habit to write down at least five things you are grateful for each night before going to sleep.
Another habit for developing contentment is when you catch yourself being dissatisfied with some area of your life, replace those restless thoughts with a statement such as, “I am satisfied with my____ .” You fill in the blank with whatever you want to be satisfied with, such as your spouse, children, career, health, finances, physical appearance or anything at all. With persistence, you will find yourself developing a new habit of contentment and satisfaction, which will lead to an increase of blessings in your life, giving you even more reasons to be grateful. Brother David Steindl-Rast said, “In daily life, we must see that it isn’t happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
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