Chaplaincy | The question of contentment

Chaplaincy | The question of contentment

Achieving contentment is a bit like catching a fish with your bare hands.

It’s not impossible, but it’s far easier said than done.

Social researcher Clive Hamilton sees the advertising industry as partly to blame for this. In his bestselling book Affluenza, Hamilton writes:

“Sometimes advertisers try to make us laugh or to think, but mostly they make us feel deprived, inadequate or anxious. It is axiomatic that they make us feel bad in a way that can be cured by possession of the products they advertise.”

Charles Kettering, the American inventor who was the CEO of General Motors in the 1920s, knew this all too well. In 1929, Kettering wrote an article about the reason General Motors would never design and sell the best car ever, claiming that:

The key to economic prosperity is the organised creation of dissatisfaction. If everyone was satisfied, no one would want to buy the new thing.

Fast forward a hundred years, and dissatisfaction is so rampant that some of us have even convinced ourselves it is a virtue.

In an article for The Spectator, Tasmanian journalist Emma Wilkins muses on a scene from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, in which the main character describes his bride’s sister (whom he has feelings for) as “a woman who has never been satisfied.”

He tells her: “You’re like me. I’m never satisfied” – as if that’s a good thing.

It makes Wilkins wonder whether words like ‘satisfied’ and ‘content’ now carry connotations that contradict their very meaning.

I can’t help but feel she’s onto something. After all, when was the last time anyone was excited to see the word ‘Satisfactory’ on a school report?

Could it be that we’ve begun to value dissatisfaction to the point where we now shun satisfaction?

Have we turned contentment into something that indicates not fullness, but a lack of ambition, a form of laziness or settling for second best?

To do so, would be a misappropriation of the concept.

You can be content and at the same time, extremely hardworking.

You can be content and simultaneously strive for betterment.

You can be content and still dream big, because contentment isn’t about complacency; it’s about security.

Being content is about being secure in who you are, what you have, and where you’re at.

It’s that person who has a calmness to them, even when things go pear shaped.

It’s that friend who never seems to get FOMO, because they’re not caught up in comparing themselves to everyone else.

It’s that relative who’s always generous with their time and money, because they’re not desperately hoarding it away.

The Apostle Paul frequently wrote about contentment in the New Testament.

In a letter to a group of Christians in Philippi, Paul even claimed to have learned “the secret of contentment”. He wrote to the Philippians:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

Paul’s secret is reliance on the God who, though he had everything, in Jesus, made himself nothing, dying on the cross, so that his infinite riches might be passed on to people like Paul and you and me.

Paul claims knowing this God enables us to be content in any and all circumstances, because in Jesus, we have everything we will ever need, “whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want”.

As the old saying goes, “It’s not where you live that matters; it’s who you live with.”

Click below to view the full talk.

Nathan Lee | Assistant Chaplain

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