Contentment as a Skill

I always thought I would one day find myself more content.

In my mind there was never a specific context, age, or season of life, when I reach this euphoric state. It’s something I would just come into. Like spring after winter.

Over the last year we’ve doubled down on managing our finances as we prepare to buy our first home. There is nothing like tightening the belt to make you consider what is truly essential.

Through the process I’ve realized my addiction to spending. For me, spending surfaces as a broken attempt to experience joy. As if joy were something I could buy. It may satisfy for a moment, but it returns telling me I need and deserve more.

A passing moment of joy can be found in a purchase. But neither does it truly satisfy or last.

Lasting joy comes through choosing contentment in my present condition.

Ultimately, my joy is rooted in my faith in Jesus. A deep sense of unmovable peace. Reflecting on my debt of sin being forgiven is a sure way to bring joy.

I have begun to think of joy as a skill that can be learned, cultivated. Not a fleeting emotion that is reserved for select moments of life. I can actually choose joy throughout my day. So I’ve been practicing.

There is a element of inconvenience related to having only one car for our family. How is it that being a two-car-family became the standard?

Is it my desire to never be inconvenienced? Or is it just more practical to have two cars?

Can I learn to be content with what we have and see those limitations as a blessing?

This verse has been top of mind through this internal wrestle.

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
— Psalm 16:5–6

This is a prayer of contentment if I’ve ever heard one. Oh Lord, help.

Making my own coffee instead of purchasing a cup from a local shop can also be a joyful experience. As I write, I’m currently sitting in the shade at a rose garden here in Kansas City on a particularly cool summer afternoon.

My options for writing was, a) go to a local coffee shop, spend money, and sit in the air conditioning and write. Or b) make my own coffee, go for a little drive, and adventure outdoors to find a spot to sit and write in nature. A small difference in decision, a large difference in the type of experience I’ve chosen.

Can I be content to not need the stimulation of a coffee shop experience? Can I instead find contentment in sitting outdoors taking in the sights and smells of my environment? Do I need internet? No. Is coffee the prerequisite for writing? No. Do I need air conditioning? On this particular afternoon, no.

Contentment spills over in to all of areas of life. Can I be content to drive the car we have? Which, doesn’t have a payment, drives well enough, but may not have all the bells and whistles I prefer.

Can I be content not to eat out? The inconvenience of preparing my own food vs. paying to instantly be satisfied.

There are plenty of opportunities in my day to work the muscle of contentment. But I have noticed I must choose to engage contentment. When I feel the desire for more rise, can I recognize it, and ask myself why?

Why do I want a new car? Is it because the one I have is not suitable? Does it not do the job I require adequately? Is it limiting my family? Is the limitation costing me in such a way that is causing me to comprise my values?

Why do I desire the latest tech device? Is my current phone no longer adequate? Does it no longer fulfill the function I require? Does it not perform the tasks I need?

Asking why has been a helpful first step in identifying areas I feel a lack of contentment. And in seeking to understand my motivation for things in general.

Gratitude instead of Contempt

When I view contentment as a choice or a skill, I’m suddenly faced with a split in the road. Where as I usually experience the choice of contentment in a negative form.

I feel a general dissatisfaction toward an object in my life. This kettle isn’t good enough, this car stinks, I need a new computer, I wish we had X, and on and on the list goes. Is it there some truth to that internal dialog? Maybe. Or, do I have a case of shiny object syndrome and have grown tired of looking at the same hot water kettle every morning? The car works fine, it is just that I’m over driving a Prius. The computer does every task I require adequately, it’s just a few years old.

Contentment is learning how to choose gratitude over contempt.

It’s to say like David in Psalm 16, the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. To be grateful for the limitations I’ve come up against in life. To thank God for the endless blessings in my life.

I would venture, 99% of the things I feel contempt over are unique to my privilege of living in America. It would be difficult to explain to someone from a war-torn nation my need for two cars instead of one. Or my dislike of my crab-grass lawn. I have much to be grateful for.

Because I won’t magically show up one day down the road generally content with everything in life. I want to learn contentment now, so that I don’t live under the illusion that one day I will be. In the small, un-anointed small of everyday life, I can choose contentment.