The Challenge of Contentment, or Contentment in a Culture of Choice

As a boy I remember sitting in the car hoping that my favorite song would come on the radio.  Having just begun to care about music I couldn’t wait to hear the song that caught my ear.  Every other song that played filled me with hope that we must be getting closer to my song.

Then I discovered that it was possible to buy the record and have the ability to play my song at home whenever I wanted.  But the record was filled with other songs that I really didn’t want and I dreamt about some machine at the record store where you could buy just the songs that you wanted.

When Dreams Come True

It was dreams like this that have given rise to iTunes and personal listening devices to orchestrate the sound track of our lives.  (For the record I didn’t invent iTunes or get any royalties from my boyhood vision.)  Now we can have exactly what we want: the perfect song at the perfect moment.  Even in a car full of people listening to “Fireflies” for the thousandth time, we can satisfy our desire to hear that plaintive 10,000 Maniacs song that speaks to the moment.

The technological advances of our time are incredible and the abilities that we have been give to personally shape our world, or at least our experience of it, is unparalleled.   We have been given amazing power to manicure our lives through the abundance of choice.

Is This the Good Life?

It would seem that the logical end to this reality would be greater contentment and enjoyment of what is, yet I wonder if we haven’t inadvertently begun to focus on what is not.  The incredible array of choice gives us the thought that each moment, each meal, could be better, resulting in an epidemic of discontentment.

It was not that long ago that merely going out to dinner was a treat.  Now with the amazing panorama of cuisine at our disposal and the steady supply of cooking shows that inform us of what is “spot on,” we seem to be less satisfied with what once was considered a great meal.  I know that there are times that I finish a good meal and think, but the red sauce at the other restaurant is better.

Why Do We Seem Discontented?

The challenge of the culture of choice is that we are wooed into a sense that we can shape every moment and meal into perfection.  With our idealized perfection in mind it is not surprising that we feel disappointment and discontentment when things don’t meet these lofty expectations.

This modern malaise is problematic not only for moments and meals, but in relationships and our work.  When we apply our “perfected ideal” to others there is no room for another person to be the real them and little room for healthy relationships.  Occupational discontentment is exacerbated by the perpetual thought that the grass is greener—lavishly greener—elsewhere.

I am not saying that these technological advances or choices are bad.  Like all of creation, they are good. But we need to continue to beware how we let this culture of choice shape us.  The first step toward contentment is our awareness of how the abundance of choice impacts us.  Do we merely live in the plethora of options or do we being to expect the world to conform to our expectations?

True Contentment

The second step is intentionally focusing on being content.  In Philippians 4:11 Paul writes “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  This verse encourages us as contentment can be learned.  We can practice fighting our selfish temptation to shape each moment and letting the music play.  We can train ourselves again to enjoy the blessings of what is and not focus on what is not.  We can enjoy the freedom of a good baked potato merely being good.

Part of the cultural crisis of character is the wide spread lack of contentment.  May we discover both, the goodness of abundant choice and the richness of contentment.

Thanks for reading. Let us know what you think?

Jim

 

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  1. #1 by Annette Swanson on June 30, 2011 - 8:29 pm

    In my opinion, the lack of contentment stems directly from a lack of gratefulness. When I’m discontented with the things in my house that need fixing, I am not being grateful that I HAVE a house, unlike many people on this planet. Discontentment with my children’s behavior is often a lack of gratefulness that I HAVE children to love, teach, and correct. Frustration with my husband comes when I focus on the day’s one unmet expectation instead of the twenty unsolicited acts of kindness from him. Discontentment happens with the crabby cashier on Memorial Day weekend, instead of thankfulness that she’s working while I enjoy shopping on a day off. Discontentment that there’s only dark chocolate in the house instead of the milk chocolate I prefer…well, no, that’s just plain WRONG….

  2. #2 by Elaine Kluttz on June 30, 2011 - 10:21 pm

    I agree with Annette, about our lack of gratefulness, as well as being spoiled. Earlier this spring when the tornados had been really bad, before Joplin MO. We were getting rain every day. It was a Friday and I was on my way to clean one of my clients houses. All week I had to drag stuff in and out of clients houses in the rain. I was grumbling to myself about how I couldn’t stand this rain any more. Then it hit me how could I even think of complaining about rain when there are people who have just lost everything as well as loved ones. We have so much STUFF!! Things we never want to do without again now that we have it, but honestly we could easily live without some of it. Actually after a while we probably wouldn’t even miss it that much.

  3. #3 by Laurie Bagley on July 1, 2011 - 9:45 pm

    Amen and Amen! Thank you for such a thoughtful post Jim.
    Kind of makes you understand those people who go live in communes and shut out the outside world, hehe

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