I recently read a post titled “Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Remembering to Appreciate What I Already Have” by J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly fame (an A-list personal finance blog). My attention was drawn to a sentence in one of the 194 comments to that post.
“I don’t think contentment is much of a virtue — it’s more of a guise for mediocrity.”
This terse statement jumped out at me because, at first glance at least, it contradicts pretty much everything I believe about contentment. But because I think it’s a virtue to confront that with which I disagree, I asked myself if this axiom could perhaps be right, undermining one of my key values.
First, I thought of the Bible, as it is the basis for my thoughts regarding contentment. I am no biblical scholar, so it’s entirely reasonable that I’d taken God’s word out of context on this issue, or had just always accepted what I’d been told it said about contentment without examining it myself. Two oft-recited verses came to mind. In 1 Timothy 6:6, Paul declares that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” In Philippians 4:12, Paul affirms that he “know[s] what it is to be in need, and [he] know[s] what it is to have plenty. [He has] learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” This isn’t an exhaustive study of contentment in the Bible, just a reference point for my beliefs.
Still, I continued reflecting, still unwilling to concede the point that contentment is a “guise for mediocrity” but also not willing to be intellectually dishonest or disengenuous.
Then I painted a house. Or more specifically, I painted a bedroom in Michael’s house, with Michael, this past Thursday. It seemed a good opportunity to seek some wise counsel. So I asked him–“Michael, do you think contentment is a guise for mediocrity?” (That’s exactly how I asked it, too…didn’t even preface it with “dude”. It’s nice being able to ask a meaningful, straightforward question to another man.)
He mulled it over, then gave me a wise answer. To paraphrase, he said that it mattered in what arena of life you were being content. In matters of materialism, he asserted, contentment is important for happiness, for understanding what it means to have enough. But in matters of personal development, he asserted, the axiom at hand is probably right.
That distinction seemed right to me, especially after I contemplated it and Michael offered some examples.
So I write this post both an unsatisfied and content man. Even more, I write this post thankful that I’m learning to honestly approach ideas with which I disagree, thankful that I have good people with which to talk these things out, and thankful I have a forum to digest and reflect on these kinds of experiences.