VIRTUE: Contentment Over Happiness

There is an interesting dichotomy in the world today. On one side of the coin, everyone appears to be continually living at such a fast pace, rushing everywhere, to and fro. Sometimes, I feel like people want to be busy, not for the sake of needing to get things done, but just to be busy, almost like they want to wear the “badge of busy” on their chests to prove they are valuable. On the other side of the same coin, life seems filled with more traffic, lines, and waiting rooms.

More than ever, people are searching for instant gratification over long-term contentment. People need nonstop entertainment everywhere they go. That’s why restaurants, waiting rooms, and even gas station pumps have installed TV screens to make sure there is never a moment you aren’t entertained. When the TV screens aren’t available, our eyes are squinting at tiny cell phone screens. This need to be entertained every waking hour creates a dopamine-driven entertainment addiction. It seems like to me we are all racing to catch our tails. And just like any addiction, the addict is continually looking for a bigger fix, never able to sit down and just be.

“The happy life is regarded as a life in conformity with virtue. It is a life which involves effort and is not spend in amusement.” – Aristotle

I am sitting here in my tree stand in the woods thinking about this dichotomy, listening to the wind blow through the trees and gentle raindrops falling on the freshly fallen leaves on the forest floor. There’s something primal about just sitting by yourself in the woods, away from the hustle and bustle of traffic, noise, screens, and people.

Today people measure their self-worth by how many “likes” they get on a Facebook status or how many retweets on Twitter. It’s like measuring life with a rubber ruler. Contentment really must begin with being able to appreciate and feel gratitude for the moment that you’re in, not how many “clicks of appreciation” you receive. We must somehow teach our children this.

Finding contentment can be difficult while being barraged by other people’s drama on reality TV shows which can only be broken up by people telling what you need in commercials. Don’t give me wrong; the goal is to find contentment anywhere you are, but if you are not centered and well practiced at it, just like anything adding distractions does not help.

I play bass guitar in my church’s praise band. We practice once a week, without an audience to distract us so we can get the music close to perfect before adding the audience back into the equation. In other words, we isolate ourselves to get it right, before adding in the additional pressures of playing live. I find myself retreating woods for peace and solitude to practice contentment. The idea is, with practice, I can add the distractions back in and continue to discover the same contentment everywhere.

It seems to me like it’s an excellent exercise to get away from those things and go outside just watch and listen to nature, having no goal in mind, and have an appreciation for this world that God has made.

In a selfish world that believes more and more in subjective over objective morality, there is a hugely overused cliché that the meaning of life is seeking happiness. The problem with this idea is some sick people in this world find delight in murder, rape, violence and utterly depraved lifestyles.

The truth is, life is a roller coaster of ups and downs and to avoid everything that makes us unhappy or uncomfortable is running away from life. To expect nothing but happiness all the time is to believe we are always going to be sitting at the top of a hill on a roller coaster, but if you’ve ever gotten stuck on a roller coaster, you know that being stuck on the ride is just not enjoyable. A roller coaster requires all of the ups and downs to make it an actual ride. Our goal should not be to get stuck at any one place on the track but find contentment no matter where we are.

Contentment is the offspring of gratitude and appreciation. When things get hard in life, and we find it difficult to find contentment, seek out the things you are grateful for and appreciate and there you will find contentment. Practice gratitude and appreciation frequently alone and distractions will not shake your contentment in the long run.

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 through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13