One of my uncles was very vocal on politics. Never happy with the current state of things. Always had opinions about what was wrong and what they should do to fix things. Because, as he pointed out, “You should never be content.”
Yet when it came time to vote, he always voted for the same party, the very one running government in Sweden for many years. When we asked him why, he’d mutter something about that there’s nobody else you can vote for.
It was much later that I gave serious thought to his situation: He’d been injured in a work accident and never worked again. Could he have done something else — retrained, refocused, reinvented himself? He had a disability, but it didn’t keep him from many daily activities, so probably he could have found a 2nd career of some sort.
It would have been good for him if he had. He wasn’t content with his current situation, but neither did he have ambition to change it to something entirely different.
What was it that kept him from making a change? I think there’s a case that his very vocal “You should never be content” kept him from seeing or making any change.
That sounds odd at first. You’d think that being discontent drives ambition for change.
After all, if we’re content with the status quo, why would we change it? But there’s more to it than that. In fact, it’s actually discontent that derails ambition.
What is contentment?
Contentment is an emotional state of well-being. It’s a confidence that all is well. Contentment seeks to extract and appreciate everything that’s good in any situation. We experience peace when we’re content. Contentment is a joyful resolve to appreciate our current circumstances.
Why discontent derails ambition
- We spoil what we have by constantly chasing after what we don’t have. If we can’t learn to enjoy what we currently have, the irony is that we’ll never be satisfied. We’re looking for happiness and fulfillment in the wrong place. If we’re always striving for more and more in order to be happy, when will enough be enough? So discontent turns ambition into something ultimately frustrating and harmful.
- Discontent fosters self-focus and a woe-is-me attitude. When life becomes all about us, life becomes very shallow. We grow introspective and narcissistic. This grossly limits our outlook and ability to see and grasp future opportunities.
- We mope, complain and stoop to negative self-talk. Complaining and whining only serves to preserve our current miserable state. By rehearsing it and broadcasting it we actually give it power. It now owns us, and we become too weak to overcome it.
- Discontent makes us difficult to live with. No one likes being around a nay-sayer. No one. People — even our friends — find us boring and unpleasant. But this lack of outside input and camaraderie makes it difficult for us to improve and break out of this vicious cycle.
- When we’re discontented, we’re unthankful and ungrateful. These unappreciative attitudes breed more discontent and negativity. There will be no progress forward through that mire of an existence!
For all those reasons and more, discontent hamstrings, derails and undermines ambition and progress, getting us nowhere fast!
Setting the record straight
So, let’s set the record straight about contentment. First, erase the image of the proverbial “contented cow” from your mind. That motionless cow standing in a pasture chewing its cud is not the condition we’re after! That’s not the brand of contentment that we’re talking about. It’s the wrong image. True contentment is not passive and motionless.
Instead, contentment puts us in a frame of mind to extract and enjoy all that’s good in our current situation. This frees us to see and pursue new and exciting possibilities. Contentment fills us with positive attitudes about life and people. Others see our contentment and are drawn to us. They want what we have.
Suddenly, people are seeking us out, wanting to do business with us or to partner with us in some new venture. And we discover that contentment is ambition’s closest friend.
How to cultivate contentment
- Look for the positive in every situation. I’m not suggesting that you trick yourself into believing all is well when you’re experiencing genuine calamity and sorrow. But there’s both a noble and an ignoble way to experience grief. Choose the noble path.
- Express thanksgiving and gratitude often. In a poem, Helen Keller, who was born both blind and deaf, wrote, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” There’s always something that we can consider ourselves fortunate about. Be generous in giving thanks and appreciate what you have.
- Speak and act positively. A confident, joyful attitude puts us in a place to both enjoy our current situation and to discover ways to improve our circumstances and those of others.
- Enjoy what you have. Spend time with your loved ones enjoying each other and the moment.
If you want to give ambition a leg up in your life, seek contentment. Practice the skills above to cultivate contentment in your life, and ambition, progress and more good things will soon come your way.
Review your day, your world right now and find some things that are positive.
Express gratitude for them and let others around you know.
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