Cultivating Contentment

This picture, popular in the early 20th century, speaks to me of contentment and thankfulness

One night not too long ago I was telling my husband about some part of my world that just wasn't as it ought when he told me to stop whining.

What? Me? I'm no whiner! 

Those defensive thoughts were the first ones that ran through my head. But almost as quickly, others came, and I had to agree with him. In fact, I'd already been convicted along the same lines earlier in the day by some of my thoughts. Now it was clear I needed to take some practical steps to redirect my ungrateful heart.

There are a number of enemies of contentment. Since that night back in November, I've given some thought to the ones I chiefly wrestle with. Along with those, here are a few of the steps I've been taking to put them to flight.

1. Perfectionism

Striving for "the best" often leads to discontent. This one plays out as I teach my children. My standards and my practices just don't match up. Instead of giving thanks for the things we do accomplish, I sometimes focus on all the areas I fall short of my ideas. But perfectionism also rears its head in many other areas of life.

Just before Thanksgiving, Tim and I remodeled our living room. It's quite fun to work on projects like this together, and for the most part, we're happy with the changes. But here's the weird part: while we worked on the living room, the front hall floors began to look bad and we made plans to redo them. And then we started thinking about how much the basement carpeting needs to be replaced. That's not even mentioning the various items I think I "need" to bring the living room project to completion. It just goes on and on. Obsessing about what's wrong with the house and what we should do to improve it is just so easy. Soon I'm focused on the house instead of the people the house is supposed to serve!

Remedy: Actively work on serving others, not focusing on the externals.

It's never going to be featured on Pinterest, but our living room
now can welcome more people comfortably. Hurrah!

2. Comparison

Comparing ourselves to others is another killer of contentment. Most likely you've read about the studies which seem to show the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more likely he is to be lonely and depressed. University of Michigan cognitive neuroscientist Jon Jonides says:

When you're on a site like Facebook, you get lots of posts about what people are doing. That sets up social comparison -- you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook.

Looking at Pinterest pictures of beautiful homes does the same thing. Suddenly we're not satisfied with the perfectly good home we live in.

Comparison leads to jealousy and coveting. I love how specific God was in giving the 10th commandment which deals with covetousness:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17).
Look what's mentioned here! Our neighbor's house (hmmm - that includes her kitchen), his wife (or her husband), his servants (maybe our friend's stainless steel appliances?), his animals (vehicles?), and then for good measure - anything that belongs to our neighbor!

Remedy: Instead of looking at someone else's life (or house), I can be grateful for God's presence. Having that, what else really matters? Hebrews 13: 5, 6, says:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say,The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.What will man do to me?” 

3. Selfishness

This is probably at the root of discontentment in general. But I'll pull it out as a stand-alone. The fact is that as long as I'm more concerned about myself and my personal concerns and comforts, I'm not going to be content. But when I'm thinking more about the needs of other people, then I stop worrying about whether my whim of the day is being satisfied or not.

And what about thinking about pleasing the Lord instead of pleasing myself? Hmmm. Guess that's what I ought be concerned about.

Remedy: Consider others more highly than I think of myself!

4. Ingratitude

How often I'm ungrateful for the many kindnesses shown to me by both the Lord and by dear ones in my life! Discontent and ingratitude go hand in hand. But there's help for this!

Bob Schulz said this in his wonderful book Created for Work:
Thankful enjoyment of God’s good gifts is one remedy against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Whether it’s food, clothes, your home, or your business, may you take pleasure in what you have and thereby live thankful, contented, and joyful in your Father’s presence. 

Remedy: Actively work on becoming a more thankful person. I've begun trying to remember to start and end each day by thinking of five things I'm thankful to God for. It might sound sort of Pollyanna-ish, but it has been making a marked improvement in my daily attitude. Some days, awaking in a grumpy mood, I don't initially feel like giving thanks, but as I begin, the reasons to do so begin to wash over me and I'm so grateful to the Lord for His presence, His person, and His work.

5. Complaining people

Complaining is destructive. Even when the one complaining is me and I am talking to myself! But when we complain to a friend, we spread our poison to them as well.

When we voice our discontent, we reinforce it in our own minds, plus we very often bring the hearers down as well. Of course there are times you will need to give voice to some grievances. Be judicious and deliberate when deciding between giving necessary understanding and encouraging grumbling in your audience.

When my husband worked on a construction crew, it was not unusual for the men to grumble about their wives as they ate lunch together. Tim found that a way to turn the subject from complaining was to put in a few good words about his wife - me!


Observe yourself as you talk to your friends and family. Are you a frequent complainer? Do you often feel like you understand how things "ought" to be done and know just how things ought to be sorted out? Are you irritated at the way things are run in your church, school, homeschool group, club, or team? Do you complain about your husband to your girlfriends and encourage them to do the same to you?

Set a guard on your mouth as you talk to others and even yourself. Consider whether your words are fueling contentment or discontent in both yourself and in your hearers. Here's another place to practice active thankfulness - in your conversations with others!

 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and 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 [c]through Him who strengthens me. Phil. 4: 11-13

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. I Tim 6: 6-8


Annie Hogue said…
Thank you, Anne. This is helpful.

Popular Posts