Maximizing Contentment

Up front, a disclaimer: I’m not a contentment expert. Being contented in life isn’t something I’ve mastered. It’s often elusive to me and I’m still learning to practice it better. With that, I liked this bit from the minimalists:

Contentment is internal, and it is possible to be content with nothing or with a room full of stuff.”

The context for this is about consumption. Consumerism is sometimes driven by discontentment. We seek happiness, and marketers convince us we’ll find it in buying the next product on sale. Or we think we’ll be missing out if we lack the newest thing.

Possessions: external; contentment: internal. 

Contentment is more an attitude than an emotion, though I think it can cause positive feelings. Joy, gratitude, or tranquility are linked with being contented.

As for quantity, I think you need more than nothing but not much. The least you should be content with is: food and clothing. Without those, it likely means you’re either a devout ascetic or tragically poor.

Such a standard of contentment is very high and not one I think I’ll attain. But knowing the minimum and realizing I have so much more than food and clothing helps me be contented, or at least grateful, with all that I do have.

I get this idea of contentment from Paul in the Bible:

“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” - 1 Timothy 6:8

Another point about contentment is it means knowing how to be okay with either more or less, as Paul also wrote:

“…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” - Philippians 4:11b–12

The tricky thing about minimalism — inherently focused on less in terms of quantity — is that it seems fundamentally discontent with owning many things. Is being minimalist akin to being discontent with much?

Pursuing minimalism, I’ve kind of struggled with an imbalanced focus on merely the amount of clutter around me. I think a drawback with minimalism is becoming too obsessed with having the fewest items possible. It’s like being consumed with little instead of much — you’re still consumed by concerns over quantity.

On the consumption continuum, if you swing the pendulum from having more happiness with more things to having more happiness with fewer/less things, you’re still stuck with basing your happiness on a number of things. So your internal feelings rely on external circumstances, which are subject to change.

That said, clutter causes stress, and less is more. So minimalism is valuable and vital. Yet while I’ve found some success in purging my possessions, I’ve also had to practice contentment because I can’t purge enough.

Minimalism helps when the focus is less on a low number of things and more on being intentional about how much you own, what you own, and why you own it. I think contentment, simplicity, and gratitude shine as they seem to be underlying principles of purposefully living with less.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

What’s your take on contentment?