Contentment and gratitude

Why are so many of us discontented? Our lives are filled with luxuries and opportunities unimaginable by our ancestors. In the developed world, most of us have abundant food and water, live longer and healthier lives than ever before, have shelter to protect us from the elements, and have considerable control over the direction of our lives. We usually take for granted all of those basic needs, which once occupied so much of people’s minds. Yet the expected result – contentment – has often failed to come about.

Why does this discontentment exist? How can we remove it? If we examine our mind when it is discontented, we find that it is filled with thoughts of what we lack and what we need. Although such thoughts might be justified if we are worried about starvation or shelter for the winter, they are hardly justified for most of our daily concerns. More likely, we are discontented because our car is 5 years old, our clothes are longer fashionable, or we have no date for Saturday night. If we attach so much importance to these minor details, it is no wonder that we are not content.

To find peace and contentment, we must learn to cultivate gratitude and to appreciate what we have. Instead of thinking about what we lack, we must learn to focus on the positives in life. Of particular importance, we must stop comparing ourselves to others and becoming jealous of what we perceive them to have. Why does it matter what our neighbour has? What about all those people less fortunate than ourselves? Our thoughts dictate our feelings. If our thoughts are about what we lack, discontentment follows. The practice of gratitude is a powerful tool to keep us focused on what is right with our lives.

Therefore, whenever we feel discontent, we must try to regain our perspective. We must remember what is truly important in life. Discontentment results from our tendency to blow something out of proportion – to think that a new car, a better house, or even a small salary raise will make all the difference in our lives. If we are dissatisfied with our lot, we may be tempted to try and improve it. However, no improvement in our circumstances will make us any better off unless we also learn to appreciate what we already have.

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